Title: The Wrong Stuff

Author: linda.ljc

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Characters: Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Dr. Weir, Caldwell, Ronon, Chuck Campbell, Radek, Miko, OCs.
Category: Drama, Humor, Action/Adventure

Warning: Gen with a bit of swearing
Summary: Arrival of a know-it-all Major-Doctor (or is that Doctor-Major? Oops, I'm quoting O'Neill from SG1.). Arrogant OC's, milk runs that aren't, and some snark.

Spoilers: story timeline, sometime after episode Critical Mass and before Lifeline.

Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis belong to Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Film Corporation. All other publicly recognizable characters, settings, businesses, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis or any other media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story was written by linda.ljc with the love of the show in mind.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12729379/1/The-Wrong-Stuff


..


McKay!”


Yes, yes, yes. I know!”


Zelenka, do you know what he's doing? The generators that are still working sound like they're going to blow any second, and I'd really like to cancel the self-destruct before it gets down to the last second.”


Zelenka had his head bent over his laptop. He lifted one hand just long enough to push his glasses up before he answered. “I believe he is saving Atlantis once again, Colonel.” That was followed by a sigh and a muttered, “Of course, if the fates haven't had their laugh for the day, and Rodney's new code does not blow us up instead of ...”


McKay didn't pause or glance his way; just yelled, “Got it! And I heard you, Zelenka.”


Sigh, “Of course you did. No matter. Atlantis is saved and we get to live another day.”


Hey! Don't jinx us.”


The whining sound of the beleaguered generators was winding down to a less dangerous level as the load on them stabilized.


McKay spoke loud and clear. “Sheppard! We have control of the self-destruct.”


Dr. Weir, who hadn't strayed far from the laptops set up in the Control Room was the closest. She quickly typed in her password while muttering, “Atlantis, please believe us this time. We're back in control.”


The alarm klaxon abruptly went silent. Everyone took a quick glance around, just checking if it was true, before even daring to take a deep breath. Another, deeper breath and they were still alive. The relief they all felt was echoed on everyone's face. Disaster was averted once again.


John chuckled. He thought he might be just a bit hyped up on adrenaline. Hail Mary's … gotta' love 'em.


Chuck. Is the Daedalus within range for radio contact?”


Not yet, Sir. They should be in range in ten minutes.”


John thought for a moment about what that meant. If the Daedalus had been in orbit fifteen minutes ago they might all have been evacuated, and Atlantis would have been lost. Instead, they all were saved by a small delay in arrival time, and of course, the genius of Dr. Rodney McKay. He wondered idly how many times Rodney had saved his life, or Atlantis itself? If he asked, McKay probably had it all on a “balance sheet” in his head and he could recite the list for him, and in chronological order.


...


Caldwell strode purposefully across the Gate Room. He and Sheppard each tossed a salute to the other. Caldwell tried hard to hide his truly uncharacteristic smirk. Sheppard's salute could use a little work, and it grated on him a little. It didn't show the proper respect for all those that had come before them; that had fought and died for their country. Caldwell had always believed that certain standards had to be the rule. That a lackadaisical command style was inappropriate. When someone of higher rank showed up, an officer should stand a little straighter, put a little bounce in their step, a bit of a snap to their responses, and that would encourage all the other men under him to be just a bit more “soldier”. It was a sign of respect, and respect was earned.


But then one day the thought had occurred to him that Sheppard trusted him, and he'd always assumed he didn't trust anyone easily. He knew Sheppard trusted O'Neill. Hell, almost everyone trusted O'Neill, except for Kinsey, the NID and The Trust, but that lack of trust went both ways. There was steel in O'Neill. That, and resolve, honor. But he'd been privileged to have gotten glimpses below the surface of both of these men, and it was obvious that they were both deadly serious in all the ways that counted. Yep. There was a real person behind the uniform and a good soldier.


After the Goa'uld that he'd been forced to host had been removed, he'd had a lot of time to think. Many of his treasured relationships had been strained or completely destroyed because of the Goa'uld's agenda. It had taken some time to recover those losses and reevaluate many of his own decisions. Oh, he didn't, and couldn't fix some but he knew that his military career had become the one thing he could count on. Many in the SGC at least tried to understand what he'd gone through, and Sheppard was one of them. He'd slowly come to appreciate Sheppard's style of command even though it wasn't his. He had to admit to himself that he'd gone the other way, and he knew some people thought of him as a bit of a martinet, but by-the-book was how he'd lived during his military career, and that was how he dealt with the stress.


Good to see you all in one piece, Sheppard.”


Sheppard glanced away and gently snorted. “Yeah. I guess we need to thank McKay for that. Good timing on your part though.”


Caldwell grimaced. “What? Again?”


Sheppard nonchalantly glanced at his wristwatch. “Hmm. Twenty minutes and... fifteen seconds since the self-destruct … didn't. It must have decided it wasn't a good day to die. So, just a repeat of a normal day in Pegasus.”


Not any of the neighbors this time then?”


Nope. Just physics and engineering and ten thousand year old tech.” He reached over and gently patted a console and whispered loud enough so Caldwell could hear, “No offense, Atlantis.” Standing tall again he continued, “I hope you brought more of the Atlantis equivalent of baling wire and duct tape. There are more patches holding the old girl together than I really want to know.” He gave Atlantis another less obvious pat.


Caldwell could read the exhaustion behind the snark and was glad he might have something a little more helpful with him than baling wire and duct tape, though he was sure they were on the manifest somewhere.


Well, I might, and that's a qualified might, have some good news for you on that score. Got a few new minions for McKay, from Stargate Command and Area 51, so they're more up on Ancient tech than most of the crew we drop on you. They're military mostly, and they're field qualified, too.”


Sheppard perked up at that. “Scientists with guns? Really?”


Caldwell snorted, “And big egos, I'm sorry to say. So don't get your hopes up too high. The last few weeks have been … interesting, to say the least. Hermiod wouldn't stop muttering in Asgard after they went poking around down in engineering. From what little the Chief Engineer knew of the language, it sounded like swearing, so he banned the lot of them from the Engine Room. And then they caused my Chief Scientist to hiccup for a full day, so I restricted their access to the Bridge. The last few days have been nice and quiet, but I'm actually looking forward to their introduction to McKay, especially one team. They have a specific engineering project to complete here on the city. If he can't set them to rights, then no one can.”


Wonderful. I suppose McKay will straighten them out sooner or later. It should be entertaining at least.”


Carter said to tell McKay she's sent a dossier and CV on each of them.”


I'm sure I'll hear all the bad parts, and of course the good parts won't be good enough. I just hope it balances out, and the teams last until they're rotated out.”


Caldwell could well agree with that sentiment. He'd written too many condolence letters himself, and the thought of losing Hermiod, and having to explain it to the Asgard High Council and Homeworld Security gave him nightmares of his own.


Well, Sheppard, do you have a cup of coffee to spare for an old spaceship captain?”


Sheppard chuckled. “How often do you get to use those words, Caldwell?”


Caldwell chuckled back, “Not nearly enough. Not nearly. The crew in the mess hall at the SGC has no sense of humor.”


They were still chuckling as they left the Gate Room.


...


Chuck could only stare at them in mild shock as they left. Sheppard and Caldwell were willingly spending time together? It was almost enough to cause him to question if this was his reality.


...


Rodney hurried to catch up to Sheppard. “Sorry I'm late.”


Sheppard glanced to McKay. “Not another crisis?”


If it was a crisis I wouldn't have stopped for coffee. Well maybe I would. Depends.”


Sheppard just grinned and kept walking. “You ready for the orientation?”


Rodney stopped, so of course Sheppard had to stop, too. “Why haven't we recorded these things and just made them watch it?”


Oh, I don't know. Maybe because some of them have good questions, and we want them to live.”


Rodney rocked his head side to side as if weighing the truth of that. “Okay.”


Sheppard snorted gently and shook his own head as they moved on. He knew McKay rode herd on his crew at least as hard as he did his soldiers, it was just that there were so many more creative ways that the geeks could kill us all, and all in the name of scientific curiosity.


The conference room was just ahead and he decided to stop for just a moment to get a read of this audience. They seemed a little quiet.


Well, here goes.” He walked in and up onto the dais and nodded to Lorne in the front row. Lorne joined him and Rodney at the front of the room.


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.”


A chorus of “Sirs” answered back from the military contingent, and the civilians gave out a discordant murmur.


A Major stepped forward and saluted crisply. “I'm Major Benson, Colonel Sheppard. I've the highest rank in this group. If you need my assistance with getting the men settled I would be happy to assist.”


Sheppard had answered the salute with one of his own, slightly wilted version. “Major. I think Major Lorne, my 2IC, and I can handle that adequately. We've managed to get our new arrivals settled well in the past.”


Benson nodded his head, then answered calmly, “I've read the reports coming out of Atlantis. Your attrition rate for new arrivals is abysmal. I just wanted to offer my expertise if needed.”


The stillness in the room was complete. Even Rodney was holding his breath. He thought Benson might live to the next arrival of the Daedalus... and he might not. The insult, given in a such matter-of-fact voice was obvious. And worse than that, it was hurtful. Every loss was a failure; a sorrow that couldn't be assuaged or adequately avenged. Even those surrounding Benson looked wary and wishing they were a few steps farther away from him. He saw Sheppard clasp his shaking hands behind his back. Rodney knew that John felt every loss deeply.


Well … Major. Benson. As the military head of this Expedition I find that extremely insulting to the highly trained and dedicated personnel we've had the pleasure of serving with here on Atlantis. I hope that wasn't your intent.”


Benson didn't blink an eye. “Of course not Colonel Sheppard. I hope to understand the peculiarities of this posting to better serve my country, and my men, as well as the SGC.”


That's good to know, Major. I'll assume you simply … misspoke.”


Benson must have finally realized just how far he'd stepped over a line with his comments because he simply nodded sharply and sat, to a tense, worried sigh in the ranks. Dissension among the officers was never a good thing.


The personnel of the SGC was a small, elite, specialized cadre. Their lives depended on each other. After working with Sheppard, Rodney thought their motto should be “we've got your six”. And maybe, unofficially, it was.


Sheppard glanced at the folder he had laid on the podium. He looked again at Benson, then caught the gaze of all the others. “I know you've all been through orientation for the SGC, but Atlantis has it's own peculiarities as I'm sure you've learned in the classes aboard the Daedalus. Bad news is, you'll get more classes and simulations here for another week.” A very low murmur followed this. Marines didn't usually relish study. They preferred action, and Sheppard could wholeheartedly agree. “The good news is that you'll finally be able to work with veterans of Pegasus and the City of the Ancients. I think you'll get a better idea of the situation here from the veterans and our geeks.


We'll be evaluating you to see where you fit best, either with special assignments or a Gate Team.” More hopeful sighs followed that announcement. “If you're already field qualified and slated for a team, you'll get another deeper orientation on trade, negotiation, cultural taboos, and general sensitivity training for all things Pegasus. And please keep in mind that we're the aliens here, and the people of Pegasus are justly proud of not just surviving but also fighting to keep their heritage alive in truly horrendous circumstances.


You'll learn everything we know about the Wraith and their Worshipers, and the Genii and their ilk. There are Gate addresses to memorize. Not just where-to-go, but where not-to-go. Pay special attention to the Space Gates. Absolutely gorgeous views, but a frigid, airless trip not recommended without a Jumper. And of course, the simulations will include target practice - while evading a culling beam. Try not to get “culled” in the simulations. I try to keep the pranks down, but Marines will be Marines.”


Major Benson stood up. Sheppard stared at him for a good thirty seconds before giving him a nod. “Perhaps you're unaware, but my three assistants and I are here for a special project to be finished here on Atlantis. We're slated to return to the SGC on the next Daedalus run. I'm sure everything you mentioned is necessary … for everyone else. I'm field qualified already, as are my assistants, so perhaps we could skip much of this extra training.” He gave a small chuckle. “I, and my men, are quite good shots. We should at least be exempt from that.”


Sheppard stared again, long enough for people to start to twitch. It was certainly enough time to make everyone tense. He could tell that McKay was finding it difficult to keep his mouth shut, but he didn't worry about him. He knew when to keep out of military matters. So, he invited him in.


McKay, step forward would you? Perhaps you could explain ...”


Benson just glanced at Rodney before interrupting with a grimace and an extremely condescending tone, “You're McKay. The astrophysicist. Colonel Sheppard, I hope you don't expect him to lecture us on our jobs … or,” followed by a chuckle, “Wraith killing. I hardly think his knowledge about the subject would aid us. We're not even slated to leave the city. It could hardly be of any service to us. I'm a soldier and a scientist. I've been with the SGC for eight years. I've been on a Gate team for over four years. I believe I'm much more experienced in conducting myself in the field than a civilian.”


If Benson knew Sheppard better, he'd have backtracked on his words and toned down his attitude long ago, because Sheppard's eyes had narrowed, and his drawl only intensified. “Well I believe you're not considering that we've been attacked and invaded before, and had a hibernating Wraith wake up and cause considerable damage, Major. Tell me, just out of curiosity, what pistol do you carry off world?”


Benson managed to look bored and resigned at the same time. “A Beretta M9.”


Sheppard didn't turn to look at Rodney but snapped, “McKay. How useful would that weapon be against a Wraith?”


Rodney straightened slightly, and glared at the Major. “Well, that's a standard piece but is that really your choice for off world? You wouldn't have fared well against a Goa'uld System Lord with just a handgun, and an Ori Prior would have been worse.


As I'm sure you know, but the civilians might be interested in the information, an M9 holds fifteen 9mm bullets, and it's a semi-auto. If you're lucky you'd probably need 20 shots or more to kill a Wraith. Definitely more to take down a healthy, well-fed Wraith if you hit it in the chest. I know I've emptied a pistol into a Wraith and didn't even make him stumble. You really need an automatic. We were supplied with P-90's when we came out here. It's an automatic and holds 50 rounds. There are times when even that doesn't do the trick.


Of course your chances would be better if it hasn't fed recently. But you can't let yourself assume that if they go down they're going to stay down. You can't afford to forget that they can heal themselves at an incredible rate; almost as fast as you can fire. Of course if there's more than one, you'd better have extra clips available and be pretty damn fast with them or hope your men have your six.


You might get lucky with a head shot, but they move fast when on the hunt. Faster than a human. They'd be on top of you in less time than you'd expect. That's one reason sim practice is required. You need to be as prepared as you can because it's hard to predict how you'll react to their mind games until you actually experience it, but they can make you see things that aren't there. You won't want to waste bullets on ghost images. And on another planet you could be shooting at their ground troops while trying to stay out of the way of a Wraith dart that will try to scoop you and your team up with a culling beam.


If you're close enough for hand-to-hand and really a crack shot you should try to shoot their feeding hand. That will slow them down, and it might even make them back off if they're depleted enough physically that they can't regenerate fast enough.


We have some advanced tricks for close-in-fighting, but you probably won't be here long enough to learn those. But if it's a Queen, all bets are off. They're smarter, stronger, and faster, and the others would all die for her.”


Benson looked taken aback at the sharpness of the delivery. Or maybe it was the details in the answer. The rest of the crowd shared confused and disheartened looks and whispers.


Rodney dragged in a lungful of air to continue, or rant, or otherwise take him down a peg or two, but one look at Sheppard's hard eyes took the wind out of him.


Sheppard placed his papers on the podium and clasped his hands behind his back. Rodney hadn't seen Sheppard that “military” in a long time, if ever.


I see you must have just skimmed those reports from Atlantis, Major Benson. I thought maybe we could skip the remedial stuff with experienced crew but I think I see where your strength lies, Major. I guess you concentrated on the Ancienty stuff. Well keep your PhD. handy and don't tick off McKay any more than you already have. He knows what he's doing here. He has actually killed more Wraith than most people on Atlantis. Please take your seat again so we can continue. Dr. McKay is next on the agenda. You may know that he's one of my teammates on AR-1. If you read the reports, that is.”


Rodney glanced quickly aside to Sheppard. Benson didn't make himself any friends today. He probably didn't outrank Major Lorne. If he did he'd surely have found some way to let that information out during his little introduction. Rodney hoped this project of his kept Benson out of Sheppard's way.


Maybe he could set him up with Ronon and Teyla for “lessons”. Maybe Ronon could teach the moron how to kill a Wraith with a knife. Rodney had done his best to learn that particular skill but he wouldn't want to bet his life on it. The easiest part of that lesson was hiding a knife where it couldn't be found but was still easy to reach. The really hard lesson was learning to kill one with his bare hands. He still had nightmares about that first lesson and had NO interest in trying it for real. He couldn't believe sometimes that Ronon had fought them, on his own, for seven years.


...


Orientation was over and all the new arrivals were “released from captivity” as Sheppard had heard someone joke one day. So be it.


Hey, Sheppard. You okay?”


I'm fine, McKay.”


Yeah. Me, too. Sorry, about the Major.”


Sheppard stopped and stared ahead, not meeting him eye to eye. John looked a little pale and very tense. “Yeah. Me, too.”


Snort. “Yeah. We'll all just be fine together.” Rodney's crooked smile made a faint appearance.


This rotation is going to be fun.” Sheppard added. “Got your six.”


Yeah. Me, too.”


.......................................................


The next day Benson, plus his three, were at the control console in the Gate Room, and Chuck was hovering nearby when Colonel Sheppard strode out of a lower hallway. When he saw the crew up on deck he slowed, then turned to go up the steps. As he reached the top he tilted his head at Chuck, and Chuck just gave a shrug. Sheppard thought he looked worried.


Major Benson. I see you're hard at work already.”


Benson jumped. He had been so intent on his work that he hadn't seen or heard the Colonel's arrival. “I'm just getting some readings on the power situation. I need to check them against the readings that were sent to the SGC.”


You mean the ones that were sent in the data dumps?”


Yes, of course. But I also have to check all the readings since then also.”


McKay keeps an archive of all the readings. They're updated minute-by-minute. Even the ones you haven't seen from the last three weeks, while the Daedalus was en route.”


Benson smirked as he turned back to the console. “Just checking their accuracy. Mustn't just assume, you understand, Colonel.”


John allowed himself a sigh of frustration. “I believe that the Gate Room is not generally an area for research. I know McKay assigned you a lab. Are you lacking in equipment?”


Benson huffed. “Doctor McKay's idea of a lab is a windowless cell with no access to technicians to aid us. Honestly, it's worse than Cheyenne Mountain. Campbell, here, wasn't using these consoles and they can directly access the mainframe, and I expect he can tell us what we need to know or get us what we require.”


Sheppard clasped his hands behind his back and stated, “Opening up new lab space has a special protocol. I'm sure McKay assigned a space that served your purpose, and as I understand it, you'll only be here until the Daedalus returns. I thought you understood the reason we don't do research on the Gate Room consoles. We only do research on modules with a buffer, or no connection at all. McKay has deemed it less dangerous.” He glanced at Chuck and continued. “And Chuck has his own duties. This is the Gate to Atlantis. This is where we want his attention. These consoles give him access to short and long range scans of the surrounding star systems. This is also the most exposed and dangerous location on the city. I'm sure you understand.”


Benson turned a faint red color. “Well, it seems McKay wasn't working when I checked at 0700 and again at 0800 and 0900. I thought I'd just get started on my project. It's about increasing the efficiency of the naquadah generators. I thought it was important not to delay since orientation is scheduled this afternoon, for us.”


Sheppard glanced at Chuck.


I'm sorry Colonel. I did explain the reasoning.”


Sheppard nodded. His voice had gone flat and hard as he responded. “So did I, and it was emphasized again by McKay when we gave the general orientation presentation.” He turned back to Benson, who was a brighter red than before. “Benson unhook your doodads and head down to McKay's lab. If he okays this,” and he gestured to the console, “have him send me and Chuck an email, and you're good to go.”


Of course, Colonel,” he replied stiffly.


And just as a reminder, it's a serious breach of security when research protocols are not followed.”


Benson seemed reluctant as he admitted, “I... won't forget again, Colonel.”


See that you don't, Major. Carry on.”


...


McKay was glad he was Chief of Science for many reasons, but the most personally satisfying was that he could delegate the worst jobs to someone else, like the orientation of new arrivals. Although the “first phase” was the most fun because he got to scare them with all the things that had gone wrong, and left their imaginations to run away with them about the list of apocalypse level actions that had almost occurred. The Senior Staff had actually made plans for these scenarios, but honestly he'd rather not think about them on a regular basis. Sometimes it was good to let Radek and/or Miko take phase one. They were very good at scaring the new transfers, too, if he was otherwise occupied. And he did his best to be occupied.


It was almost a shame that most of the science contingent this time had a military background. They would get their orientation from Major Lorne. He wondered how Major Benson and Lorne were getting along? Of course, it was only day two.


There were a few civilians this time so he sent them all to Miko. That would leave Radek to supervise the labs and keep on top of crises. Which left McKay to keep tabs on how everyone was fitting in, work on his own research, write evaluations and reports, have a go-round with Teyla and her Bantos rods, get in a short run with Ronon and Sheppard, and still get ready for the next mission in two days. That was, of course, barring emergencies. Yes, he really liked to delegate when he could.


This morning's emergency was already attended to and he headed out for a late breakfast.


...


The mess hall was unusually full when McKay arrived to find Teyla looking for some fresh tea. He was glad to have the company since he'd missed the early breakfast because of an emergency call out. As usual, being on call meant he'd be short of sleep and this morning it came at 0300.


They scouted out the possible seating as they took their trays and both decided to head for the medical table where Carson and one of the nurse's were on a break. Their other teammates were either late, or long gone for the day.


As they were weaving between seats Rodney was jolted nearly off his feet by a Marine on his way out. There was a light clatter of scattered utensils from his tray.


Sorry. Sir.”


Rodney was well aware there was no remorse in that smirk. He didn't have a chance to say anything before he heard a sharp word from Sheppard.


Sergeant!”


The man stopped abruptly and stood at attention. “Sir.”


McKay's face was a bit flushed as he tore his glance from the Sergeant. “Sheppard, I don't think ...”


But I do.”


Rodney was ready with a biting rant. “Stupidity and clumsiness must go hand in hand. I know he's a grunt, but …”


The Sergeant actually, stupidly, took a step toward McKay.


Sheppard's deadly tone made both the Sergeant and Rodney stop. “McKay. Later.”


Sheppard stepped closer and stared the man down. He spoke softly but it carried throughout the whole mess because of the absolute silence. “I think you should replace the items dropped with clean ones. Don't you? It seems only fair considering it was your fault.”


It was...”


Think twice before you say any more. You see, it was pretty obvious to me. Do you have a witness that will say otherwise? If you do, I'd like him to speak up now. Right now.” Sheppard never even blinked. Never took his eyes off the sergeant.


Rodney wanted to glance around, but he refrained at the last second. There were several of the new arrivals to the city in a group nearby. He was a little afraid that the Sergeant's cronies would jump to back him up, but when no one spoke up he figured no one wanted to get shot down with him. Or maybe they all thought he was a jerk.


Rodney's mind cataloged various “Atlantis” type pranks, like having cold showers for the rest of his rotation or having every door shut in his face. It kept him occupied while Sheppard dealt with this. He figured Sheppard would end the sergeant's rotation early, like when the Daedalus showed up again. Oh wait, he was scheduled to leave then anyway, with Benson. Area 51 was going to get this guy back soon, no matter what happened. He had to wonder what the man had done to get him shipped out with Benson's team.


No, Sir. I'll take care of it.” After he returned and passed the items to Rodney he said, “My … apologies, sir.”


Sergeant, you'll report to Bates for extra assignments when you're free from project work and your scheduled orientation classes.”


Sir, yes, sir.” Sheppard dismissed him, then waited for him to leave the room.


After Sheppard joined them at their table, Rodney muttered, “This is not good. How did these clowns do in this morning's session?”


Just as good as you'd assume from the few situations we've already observed.”


He's supposed to be assigned to Benson. I don't know why. It seems to be a pretty straightforward mechanical adaptation from the memo I received from Carter. It didn't seem like it would require a four man team. It's probably a good thing that they don't even have to leave Atlantis. Hell, most of the people here in the hard sciences could have done the upgrade for them. But Benson might have some kind of proprietary arrangement with an outside contractor to do upgrades.”


I don't know anything about Benson, but I think the Sergeant is a relative-of-a-relative kind of placement from what Caldwell mentioned over coffee the day they arrived. This placement will earn him “points” toward another, cushier assignment later on. One with more prestige maybe.”


Well, I hope Benson can keep him busy till the Daedalus comes back.”


You and me, both.”


Wait. You had coffee with Caldwell?”


Sheppard took a sip of coffee and smirked a little. “Yeah, I did. It was … different. Hey. About Benson's activities this morning. I'd better update you before you see him in the labs.”


...


Great! There was Benson, and it was only 1030 in the morning! Rodney was not happy. Sheppard had updated him over coffee and muffins about their interaction in the Gate Room. And he'd thought being called out of bed at 0300 was a bad way to start the day.


Benson was in the lab with Radek, Miko, and Simpson when Rodney arrived. He observed that the Major's three “flunkies” were clustered behind him, the Sergeant included. At least he was keeping his attitude to himself for now.


Rodney would not think of them as “Benson's minions”. True minions were in it for the knowledge. This crew, Benson especially, appeared to be in it for what they could get out of it.


Well, Bentwood, it's about time you showed up in the science lab. I sent you an email to come talk to me about the power efficiency project the first day of orientation. You were sent here to put it in place, not to take it upon yourself to initiate research without approval.”


That's Benson, not Bentwood! This makes four times that I've been to your lab this morning already. I've spent a good bit of my time just waiting for you. I would have set out to come later but I didn't know you were such a late sleeper.”


Rodney snorted, “Sleeping all night isn't a habit someone acquires on Atlantis.”


Radek pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Dr. McKay was on call last night.”


It's really none of his business anyway, Radek. Bendy, I need to know the timeline for this project of yours. Updated readings are in the archive as you should know. It's the same protocol that the SGC uses. I assume you brought the requisite materials and parts for the upgrade. From Colonel Carter's memo I understand you'll need to do a mechanical revision to each of the generators. How long do you think each one will be offline while you tinker with them? We'll need to reconfigure and test the new interface as quickly as possible so we can be ready to reconnect to the system. I understand it's supposed to increase efficiency by twelve percent. I haven't seen your schematics either. I need to review them before I can allow you to touch anything on Atlantis. I know you've had that rule explained to you, too. No touching without my authorization.”


It's Benson, not Bendy! For a man with a PhD. it shouldn't be that hard to remember. How can you think it's appropriate to impede our work by not allowing us access to Atlantis' systems? It was fully vetted at the SGC ...”


That's two PhD's. But the “no touching” rule is nonnegotiable. It's the rule we live by here on Atlantis, and it's my rule. It's a pretty good rule, too. Since it's implementation, the percentage of workplace accidents and deaths has decreased considerably. You seemed concerned about those figures at orientation. You should be familiar with them since you read the reports so carefully. And, oh yeah, that was the SGC, not me, that “vetted” your proposal.”


Benson shifted in poorly concealed frustration. “Your rule.” He smirked as he glanced at his three military/scientist flunkies. “For now, at least.”


The smirk only emphasized Benson's attitude and Rodney was already tired of dealing with it. “I'm still waiting to hear about this project of yours. If the lab I assigned was inadequate all you needed to do was send me an email. If you need more than your three assistants there are some Marines that have volunteered to help in the Science Department when needed. Some are quite talented. Some have the ATA gene, if you need someone to play light-switch for you. Connections with Atlantis' systems can be tricky. I'd do it myself but I'm always either working on projects or research that I can't leave, or I'm in the field with my Team. But sometimes even the strongest ATA gene is required, and that's Colonel Sheppard. But I wouldn't bother him unless it's really necessary.”


Not necessary. Mine is a natural gene, maybe not as strong as the Colonel's, but perfectly adequate for anything I've run into. It has proven quite useful the few times I've had the opportunity to work with Ancient Tech.” If Benson was trying to play humble he was doing a lousy job.


Rodney couldn't help just a flicker of jealousy. Unfortunately he could see that Benson expected his reaction, and he was “gloating”, that bastard.


Benson was all supercilious as he went on. “It seems a shame that the Chief Scientist of the Expedition doesn't have a natural gene. Two of my assistants have had the Gene Therapy, too, and don't have nearly the control that I do. But they've found it useful for opening doors and turning on lights.”


McKay fumed inwardly, then he glanced at the flunkies. They had actually been browbeaten enough to be embarrassed that they had to have their gene activated and that it wasn't as strong as Benson's. The Sergeant just looked pissed. He was probably the odd man out. McKay wasn't about to be intimidated by the likes of this Major-pain-in-the-ass. He'd admit to a little jealousy, and no more.


I've had several years to interact with Atlantis. The Colonel and I have a lot of experience with that. We make a good team. If you run into problems … ask. I don't want to find out after-the-fact.”


Benson's smile got bigger. “Sheppard is a military asset. We both know the big picture. Haven't you wondered? Do you really think that Atlantis is going to remain a civilian led project? You've dealt with the military a long time. I hear you even spent some time with our dear allies, the Russians. And of course, you're Canadian. You really should have accepted American citizenship, McKay. You'd be in a better position when the time comes.” He glanced over at Radek and Miko, and smiled wider.


McKay was fuming now. How dare he try to intimidate his scientists? He didn't get a chance to take him to task because surprisingly it was Miko that spoke up first. Her soft voice held a strange bold inflection. It rather surprised him and he wondered what the reason was.


When Major Benson arrived, I saw that he was quite anxious to begin. The schematics for his project had been sent this morning, to your attention … at 0930 … I knew you would not have had a chance to study the document or authorize his project yet. I would have been happy to assist until you arrived. The document was quite interesting. Perhaps you should look it over now, if you have the time, Dr. McKay.”


Benson looked angry as he responded to Miko first. “And what would you have to do with my project? McKay, do you actually give your scientists unlimited access to classified projects?”


Rodney wasn't stupid. Miko had found something. He simply replied, “Miko was doing her job, Bentley. Radek is my second, and Miko is third. They know everything about ongoing projects. Only private research is private, and then only until it gets to the experimental stage, and if it's purely theoretical it would need peer review by someone.” He set his laptop on his desk and brought up the relevant information.


He didn't even glance up to enjoy Benson fuming at another name gaffe. “Hmm. You heard about the situation on Atlantis just before you arrived?”


Yes. Of course. Another very close call I heard,” he answered dismissively.


Yes. Very close. Atlantis is a great place to work. The tech here is years, more like centuries, ahead of Earth's, yet it's so far above our understanding that it leaves us in a tight spot sometimes. We have these great advances, the naquadah generators, and we wouldn't be here without them, but they have to work in conjunction with Atlantis' systems. We've gotten pretty good at interfacing the two, but sometimes something happens that's unexpected. This time it was a simple blown processor that threw a wrench in the works, so to speak.”


Benson looked bored, and like he wondered when the rambling explanation would end.


You see, Atlantis has so many redundancies and failsafes that we occasionally trip one inadvertently. One of the generators on our side ran hot and burned out a whole section of the power of the central spire. That led to Atlantis erroneously assuming that we were under attack by some unknown hostile force, and this force had taken over part of the control tower. Atlantis' programmed response was to shut out that section. But we were still there, and mostly, still in control, but WE became the invading force. That was a problem.”


Benson harrumphed but still waited for “the point”.


Atlantis expected her people, that would be us, to fix the problem or expel the invading force and restore power to the part of the spire that was “captured”. When we didn't, and we couldn't, her failsafe protocols called for a Self-Destruct sequence to be initiated.”


Benson's eyebrows jerked at this revelation. Obviously he'd missed the most important detail of the incident.


Now, we could have fixed it by overriding the failsafe with one of our own codes for that section, but for that we needed more energy to power the section that was supposedly under “foreign” control and we couldn't get more power because we were maxed on that front, having lost the one generator at the beginning, you remember? Rerouting the power we had just wasn't feasible in the time we had left, which Atlantis kept announcing by the second.”


Benson nodded but he was listening.


More power was needed that we didn't have.”


Benson wasn't getting it. “My project would have solved that problem readily.”


McKay sighed, “Well, I doubt it, but let me continue. Besides, you weren't here.”


Well, no. How did you solve the problem and get more power?”


Hmm. That's a good question. I'd been working on a program upgrade that would reconfigure the interface. It was really innovative. I sent the information back to the SGC in the last data dump. They can use it, too, you see. I'm waiting to hear back from Colonel Carter ...”


Sounds of throat clearing could be heard. Rodney glanced at his “minions”. “Yes, yes. Your names are on the paper, too. You didn't think I'd forget did you? Like I'd get away with that!”


Benson was looking a bit worried. “I wonder how that will affect the mechanical upgrade I proposed?”


Hmm. Yes, you might ask that. It's probably still viable in some form, but you're going to have to rework your equations, and maybe alter the physical aspects of it, too. I think it might take several months of study and new tests to make sure it's still viable.”


No! That's not possible!” Benson stalked toward Rodney and tried to bull his way past him to see the schematics that Benson had devised that were visible on Rodney's laptop.


Since Rodney knew he and Miko were right, he stepped calmly back out of the way. Benson really couldn't tell anything from his own schematics because he didn't know how the interface had changed with the upgraded program. Rodney turned to his minions and nodded. He even allowed himself a little bounce on his toes. It was nothing too obvious, but it was just very gratifying to derail the Great-Major-Doctor-Benson. And he brought it on himself, too.


When you're done there, Major, you and your three … assistants, will probably need reassignment. I don't know what your long term assignments will be since originally you were scheduled to return on the next supply run. If you can reconfigure your project that might be extended. Maybe you'll need to return to the SGC to work on it. As you said, it would be of great importance when you get the problems ironed out. Until then perhaps Colonel Sheppard can find assignments for you. There are always electrical problems on the city so, you know, I could find something in the sciences for you, but you wouldn't have much time to rework your project parameters if I do that. I can talk to Sheppard about short term projects here but I doubt it will be cutting edge work, something you might not prefer to do for the short time remaining in your rotation. If he sends you off world those orientation sessions would be really useful. It's too bad you came all this way for nothing. It cost a lot of money to ship you out here. I'm sure Sheppard will find something for you to do.” After a big sigh, “Or I can.”


Benson took it for a veiled threat to be assigned to sewage treatment, or it's equivalent. He didn't even look at his assistants as he stalked out, but they managed to keep just about two steps behind.


Miko grinned as Radek was heard to mutter, “Do not let door hit backside.”


Rodney furrowed his brow. “You're entirely too polite. I know you can swear in English as well as Czech.”


Radek never took his eyes off his laptop. “I save swearing for necessary occasions. This is not. Those occasions usually involve you.”


Rodney huffed. “You're wasting a precious opportunity.”


Ah. But he was already out of hearing. It would have been wasted on him. You, not so much.” Big sigh from Radek, “You... you are always here.”


An aborted chuckle made Rodney glance quickly at Miko, but all he could see were her lips pressed firmly together. “I heard that.”


...


Benson hated begging, but the next day he went to the Colonel's office. “Colonel Sheppard, we're trained for Gate teams, surely there's somewhere you can assign us.”


Sheppard was feeling more than a little exasperated. He'd hoped these four would be out of his hair most of the time. He'd expected Rodney to have to ride herd on them. Not that it would have been “safer” with them playing with Ancient tech.


Benson, you don't know the cultures, the politics, who the backstabbing allies are. You need a babysitter out there. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh but it's true. The best I can do is have McKay come up with a short list of Ancient sites that need vetting. Then send you out with a couple of regular teams because you'll need more … backup.”


It was a bitter look that Benson flashed his way as he replied, “I'm sure McKay will find us something useful. I just hope we survive it.”


Sheppard's brows knit in surprise. “I hope you're not suggesting anything … Look, McKay can “prank” with the best of them ...”


Prank? Really? What about the hot-and-cold running showers? My assistant was practically scalded.”


Now Sheppard leaned back in his chair. He looked more relaxed as he said, “That was the section where the conduits were switched. That was unfortunate. I assume your assistant is all right since he wasn't on report.”


Unfortunate! That's all you have to say?”


That wasn't McKay. It happened very early this morning and he was on the mainland overnight consulting on a water powered grain mill. Besides, if McKay pulled a prank you'd never doubt who did it, and I doubt very much that he'd take it out on your assistants. He's worked in a war zone long enough to know the value of healthy, uninjured assets.”


....................................................


The group going out today included Benson, his assistants and two Gate teams. They were gathered in the Gate Room when the alarm rang.


Chuck called out the explanation. “Unscheduled offworld activation.”


The group quickly melted into the area surrounding the Gate and all the military members plus the City Security Guards swung P-90's toward the incoming wormhole.


Chuck turned to Dr. Weir who had arrived quickly. “It's Ronon's IDC. He says he has an injured informant. He said he didn't need a medical team for transport.”


Dr. Weir took a relieved breath and quickly told Chuck to, “Open the iris.”


Ronon came through with a young man that had been an artisan among the Athosians. He had contracted with another planet to teach them skills that had been lost in the last culling of their planet. Such placements often provided information about movements in Pegasus. Ronon was sometimes a contact person for others in their “spy” network, but Sheppard said, “Ronon's too memorable to be forgettable, and spies had to be forgettable.” Ronon had tried to argue against Sheppard's logic but when Teyla agreed he finally gave in.


Ronon looked questioningly at all the guns trained on them and stopped abruptly, with a gentle hand on Kristos uninjured arm. The other arm was wrapped in myriad layers of bandages. “Did I miss something?”


Dr. Weir shook her head as she smiled. “No. No.” All of the guns swung away. Only Gate Security remained at the ready. “It's just that a large group was just heading out. Why don't you head to the infirmary and I'll meet you there? You can give me the short version after they leave, and I'll debrief you both after Kristos is seen by the doctor.”


Kristos seemed pleased that she had recognized him. Ronon didn't bother with a verbal answer, he simply nodded Kristos in the direction of the infirmary and they both exited the Gate Room.


After a few minutes of readjustment of the outgoing teams, they were ready to dial. This planet was one they'd been to before and the science crew had suggested a later season for exploration of an abandoned Ancient outpost. Hopefully it wasn't still in an arctic weather pattern. The meteorologists were fairly sure this should be middle spring for this planet. The severe weather was assumed to be the reason for the lack of population. One of the teams going out today had a member that was a meteorologist. They knew they'd have a chance for a more complete survey and find out if that assumption was correct.


The MALP had shown a lovely meadow with lavender puff balls, much like dandelions, blooming defiantly amid the still visible drifts of snow and patches of ice. The meteorologists had been pleased their calculations had been correct. Dr. Weir had remarked favorably on the tranquil setting, and Benson, the three assistants, and the two Marine teams walked through the Gate.


It was only about a minute after the wormhole dissipated that it re-formed. As if milk run were magic words, in an instant P7X-283 became the stuff of legend. It's destiny was for its story to be included in many future orientation sessions; it's crew, the butt of many jokes and pranks. And really, when you could laugh with your buddies at yourself, it was then that you knew you were one of the guys, just maybe not for the best reason.


Unscheduled offworld activation.”


Dr. Weir hadn't even had a chance to leave the Gate room before Chuck looked at her worriedly when no communication was received, then, hopefully speaking to whomever was on the other side. “This is Atlantis. Do you read?”


The radio static was minor, but all that was heard for a moment were garbled sounds. “We need …,” followed by gagging sounds. “Back! We need … back!”


Then Chuck said, “Dr. Weir, they just left! It's the IDC assigned for Benson's team.”


Dr. Weir looked startled. “Lower the iris and give them the 'all clear'. Contact Colonel Sheppard. And they didn't ask for medical, but they might be needed by the sound.”


The returning teams were not so confident as when they had left. They had returned at a faster clip, too. They slipped and skidded over each other and into the Gate Room leaving lavender smears on the floor. They'd finally fallen into a growing pile in front of Atlantis' Gate, and all the while, lavender “dandelion puffs” swirled in on the air.


There were strangled moans and retching that was approaching convulsive proportions. Some began vomiting. Most of the men and women were trying to stand and help the others. One of them was still lying down though and he clutched his abdomen. He looked to be in pain. Elizabeth believed he was the Sergeant that came with Benson's team.


Dr. Weir leaned forward onto the railing above the floor of the Gate Room. She suddenly jerked back and placed her hand over her mouth. She turned to Chuck, who had turned to her with a worried expression before his own shock appeared. Elizabeth could see his eyes start to water.


Chuck, Atlantis hasn't given a warning or isolated the teams so I'm hopeful that it isn't dangerous. Relay the situation to Dr. McKay. Have him check whether the safety protocols have been followed immediately. I don't know what that smell is, but it has to be the worst thing I have ever encountered.”


Yes, Dr. Weir.”


Dr. Benson. What happened? Do you know what's causing this?”


Benson swiped at his running eyes, turned hurriedly away, and retched. He wasn't alone in his distress. No one seemed able to comment. Every member of the team was clutching at themselves or each other hoping perhaps to keep upright or at least keep some semblance of control, and maybe a little dignity.


Elizabeth took several more steps back. Another cloud of the lavender puffs had come through the Gate and continued to do so as long as the Gate was open. They just floated gently on the air currents of the Gate Room. She decided her suspicion was correct when one of the puffs drifted close, and being closer while breathing suddenly made the smell infinitely worse.


Dr. Weir's eyes were running and she was trying valiantly to keep her breakfast down while she ordered Chuck to cut the connection before more floated through, ordered up a decontamination team, and a maintenance crew for the clean up.


Chuck, tell them to bring gas masks. Then contact Dr. McKay. Tell him we need some extra ventilation in the Gate Room if it's safe. Tell him … oh my! Tell him to hurry.”


That might have been the wrong order. Even though Atlantis hadn't required it, maybe they should have quarantined the teams and the Gate Room. The extra ventilation sent the puffs scurrying to the far corners of Atlantis. Over the next month they would find errant puffs and lavender splotches in the strangest places. They proved difficult to find in the ventilation ducts themselves.


The botanists soon worried they would reach the mainland. The Athosians were warned and told to be on the lookout for them. But they eventually learned they'd gotten lucky on that score. The puff balls seemed to fizzle fairly quickly in Lantea's warmth and the salt of it's ocean. It was probably why they hadn't taken over the Pegasus Galaxy already. They, oddly enough, LIKED the usually frigid world they came from. The botanists claimed curiosity about the puffs, but when discussion came up about further investigation, it was shelved, probably permanently. Even the botanists didn't protest.


But during that first encounter, Elizabeth kept her breakfast down with difficulty. She watched as the puffs seemed to fight the flow of air to the ventilation ducts. They seemed to be able to change direction. Did that mean they had some kind of intelligence or was that just paranoia? Many plants could follow the sun or bloom in very narrow circumstances. This was probably just a survival mechanism, being able to maneuver like that, so she probably didn't have to worry about intelligent lavender dandelion hoards on Atlantis.


Whatever they were, they were tenacious. When they did touch something they seemed to have a very effective natural adhesive because no matter how frantically the members of the teams brushed at them, they were stuck tight, and the lavender just spread. It stuck to their clothes and on their hands and faces, too. The puffs landed on the floor and stuck there, on the walls, and even on the Gate. Elizabeth and Chuck saw how frantic the teams were to remove or avoid them so they also zigged and zagged while using their hands to cover their noses. The guards on duty had already flipped up their gas masks and were helping the people still on the Gate Room floor.


The puffs that had floated in through the Gate were being avoided at all costs but they quite easily wafted through doorways and disappeared down hallways. The medical personnel hurrying toward the Gate Room were the first unfortunate people to encounter them. But at least they knew what to expect when they finally got there. Other people around Atlantis were hit all unaware.


Colonel Sheppard had arrived moments after the wormhole cut out. He noticed the puffs floating his way and stepped aside and learned quickly to breathe quite shallowly. He heard Elizabeth's orders and turned to take in the lower level of the control room. He managed between small breaths to say, “Dr. Weir. You're going to... owe maintenance... for this one. At least we know... why nobody lives there... and I bet it's not the cold.”


Dr. Weir glanced up at Sheppard, began to retch in earnest, and fled to her office.


Sheppard tried to smirk, but really couldn't. Maybe he should get McKay up here to enjoy the show. Then he thought better of it as one of the city guards handed him a gas mask. The smell just wasn't worth it. McKay would never forgive him. “Sergeant Kaplan. Make sure every member of the cleanup crew gets a mask.”


Sticky, bright lavender splotches decorated the Control Room for several days. That part wasn't too bad, but the smell! Benson and his team had found the Pegasus planet whose lovely lavender puff balls were more than equal to the Earth's corpse flower.


...


For days all McKay wanted to do was to laugh. Really, he did. But it wasn't worth it if he ended up retching. The one team that was off world was contacted and sent to the Alpha Site. They took over some of the other teams missions because the smell was so bad throughout most of Atlantis that missions were canceled or postponed for at least a week. The remaining teams were then scheduled to give Atlantis a thorough cleaning and airing out. No one wanted to “give offense” to friends or potential friends. And it was a real fear because often they couldn't stand each other.


Luckily the weather on Lantea was experiencing a pleasantly warm season. Anyone not on duty grabbed blankets and slept on the piers that week.


McKay, get away from me.”


Hey, you don't smell like a rose either!”


Man, I have nightmares that Atlantis is going to run out of hot water. I take a hot shower every time I can manage. And I'm not the only one. I think she's getting tired of all the frantic requests she's getting.”


How can you tell?”


Sheppard looked sheepish. “Just can.”


McKay frowned. “Is that like “just because”?”


Sheppard shrugged and wouldn't look McKay in the eye.


Well?”


It's just that the shower comes on as soon as I enter my room. She doesn't even wait for me to ask any more.”


Right. Maybe it's because she feels guilty for not containing them before it got so bad. Or maybe it's because you stink! Or, I know, maybe it's because you throw your clothes in a trail on the way to the shower.”


Sheppard looked at McKay. “You, too?”


Rodney looked down at the laptop perched on his knees. “Oh, yeah.” He tapped a few keys. “Oh, no!”


What oh no?”


Do you think Atlantis has soap making facilities? The Chemistry department just sent me a notice that they could use some help making an emergency, industrial strength batch.”


Sheppard looked worried. He lifted his hand to his ear. “Hey, Lorne. We have an emergency ...”


...


Seven days of cleaning with all the windows open was their new SOP. Everyone was grateful for any winds that blew their way. But boy, McKay still wanted to laugh.


Benson and company and the two other teams were quarantined to a far, far suite of rooms. Food, clothing, and supplies (for cleaning) were delivered by men in gas masks and hazmat suits. They didn't do much for a week except bathe, clean, and try to eat the food that looked fine but tasted almost as foul as the puffs smelled.


Their mood didn't get any better when they were called to the Control Room after their “quarantine”. Anyone not on duty was available to see the awarding of a “special commendation” for all three teams involved. They each received the Order of the Purple Menace, a puffy thing in a garish shade of lavender. Most of them took it in good grace, a few, just took it and grimaced.


The Sergeant on Benson's team had sustained the only serious injury. He'd actually pulled muscles in his abdomen and in his back from the convulsive retching, and maybe from being fallen on since there was a knee-shaped bruise on his back. The infirmary placed him in isolation, for their own health and well-being.


The lavender puff balls were a beautiful shade. It was unfortunate that they turned any skin they touched lavender, and as the color faded, it turned an ever so faint neon purple. If it didn't smell so bad for so long it would have made a terrific trade item as a dye for clothing. When Sheppard went to check on the Chemistry Departments production of soap, he asked them about it but they just swallowed tightly and nixed the idea pretty quickly.


Sheppard met McKay outside the lab. He turned down the hall, and didn't say a word. He just smirked.


Well?”


I think I saw them sweat.”


And Rodney doubled over with laughter.


.........................................................


What do you mean I can't go? This sounds really promising!”


McKay, we already re-scheduled Benson and his plus three, oops, now two, for the visit to P4C-224. Remember? It was the minor site you begged off on last month, and I think some fresh air will do them good. You know; air them out. They're taking two teams with them.”


The same two teams?”


Sheppard sighed. “Yeah. The same two.”


Rodney couldn't help thinking of the puff ball planet, and really, the Marines didn't deserve being saddled with Benson again, they'd just gotten out of quarantine. When Sheppard gave him a knowing look he knew he'd have to come up with a good argument to hijack Benson's assignment since it-just-wasn't-fair was not a reason even though it was alright for Sheppard to pull rank and take a juicy assignment.


But we could do the job all by ourselves. We wouldn't need two extra teams. And really, how can they call themselves experienced in the field?”


Actually they're very experienced at going through the Gate, but that experience didn't land them in hot water as much as our teams seem to find. They need the backup. And it is a long walk from the Gate.”


Rodney seethed quietly for a moment more. He wasn't ready to give up yet. He hadn't told Sheppard the best part. “But this is important. I finally found a mention in the database. This outpost did work on drones. There could be schematics, supplies, or actual drones. They may even have made them there. Or would you rather wait for another Wraith invasion fleet to go looking for spares?”


Sheppard just sighed heavily. “Okay. I'll ask Elizabeth at the briefing in the morning.”


Good. But I need to know right away. I need to make plans because I want Radek to come, too, and I have to make sure Miko's up to date on everything.”


You know Elizabeth won't want you both off planet especially when Benson's available.”


Oh, no!” McKay looked at him askance. He wouldn't...


John had stopped walking while he thought it over. “Well, it would take care of the “Benson Problem” for the time being.” He started walking again.


Now wait just a minute! I am not taking Benson and the tag-alongs! No way.”


You do know that you sound like a little kid working up to a tantrum, right?”


So be it! I'm not taking Benson.”


It's either the drone planet with Benson or we go on that meet-and-greet that Teyla suggested for our next mission. You know we can't send Benson on that one. It's a first contact.”


But that one can wait! Or, Teyla and Ronon can go with another team since the Athosians go there all the time. Teyla's knows them well. The drone planet is too important! And you know they'd be bored there just standing guard.”


Well, I have to agree on that last point, but Benson and the plus two could be useful if it needs a lot of work.”


Now it was Rodney that stopped. “You can't mean it. No. Seriously?”


Ah, ah. Kid. Tantrum.”


Rodney held his ground for a moment more but he'd given it his best shot. “Okay. If … Elizabeth approves it.”


Fine.”


Fine.”


Fine.” Sheppard smirked as he moved off.


...


Bates was going past Ronon's office when the door opened. Ronon joined him in the hallway.

“Ronon. Going to the briefing?”


Yeah. Mission today.”


Huh. You're not skipping out on more cleaning are you?” smirked Bates.


Ronon grinned a feral looking grin, and Bates' smirk disappeared.


Uh, just kidding.”


Envious much?”


Bates chuckle sounded relieved. “Maybe just a bit. Is the place inhabited?”


Yeah. Going with Teyla and AR-3. Taking a couple of new trainees: Loris, an Athosian; and Dokan, one of Keras' people. Young people hate to sit still, you know.”


Daily briefings often included Bates as City Security, and when offworld missions were in the planning stages it was often Ronon that attended the briefings. His only staff on Atlantis was an eager young marine well-versed in SGC computer/paperwork requirements and a background in covert activities he never talked about. Still, Ronon had a lot to teach him as they kept tabs on a growing number of traders, merchants, apprentices and others whose sideline was gathering intel. Some of them received goods to bargain with but most often it was done because any way they could fight the Wraith was a good thing. These were the kind of people Ronon was good at searching out.


They'd had the beginnings of an intelligence network from the first meeting with the Athosians. Teyla had been essential to their survival from the start, and as soon as allies were made, more contacts were added to their network. But it had grown even larger since Ronon arrived. It wasn't just for Wraith and worshiper movements either, but political moves, planetary defenses, resources, and of course cullings and refugee movements. As each person settled deeper into the culture of a world, the more detailed and nuanced the information was that returned to Ronon, and the city's leaders.


...


Everyone arrived on time for the briefing this morning. There was abundant coffee and enough freshly baked goods to go around. And of course, everyone had to get there before Rodney swooped in with his giant empty mug and a gleam in his eye for the chocolate pastry.


Elizabeth, whose office was closest, took advantage of that tactical advantage to scoop up her favorite. After sitting down she mentally reviewed her agenda for the meeting. Sheppard had mentioned some changes and would bring the finalized details this morning.


She looked around and saw that Major Benson was there. She knew he was scheduled for the day's mission. She wondered at the choice for a moment, then grinned ruefully, thinking about the Puff Ball Planet. She knew they'd been grounded for a week by the smell since it was quite distinctive, and very memorable. In fact she would swear she could still smell it, and for a moment, her berry filled pastry didn't look as appetizing as it did when she chose it. Maybe it was a good idea to choose an uninhabited planet so as not to offend anyone. We needed allies, not enemies.


Elizabeth began with an update on the Alpha Site. She smiled as she announced it. “Our exiled AR team is coming back at noon, Atlantis time. They've been rather busy keeping up with the missions we shunted onto them during the “quarantine”.


McKay held his coffee mug and reached for a carafe. “Don't feel sorry for them. They've missed all this “smell”. And cleaning. And sleeping on the pier. My back is never going to recover.”


Sheppard snorted. “And emergency soap manufacturing.”


Yes! And that. The soap smelled like perfume.”


Lorne grinned as he spoke up. “I really didn't mind. The soap factory was a good job to have. It was much better than cleaning the Gate Room again.”


There was a large chorus of voices raised in disgruntled agreement. No one had been spared on the cleaning schedule.


Sheppard cleared his throat. “Moving on. Dr. Weir, we've made a few changes to the teams going out today. Ronon and Teyla will accompany AR-3 lead by Johnson. Ronon will have two trainees going out with them, too. Major Benson's team will still be accompanied by AR-4, and since team 3 is reassigned to the meet-and-greet, McKay and I will fill out the detail.”


Benson came up out of his chair. “I hardly think that's necessary. You said it was another milk run.” He turned to glare at McKay.


Sheppard should have expected the Major's opinion of the swap, but he wasn't happy with the interruption. “Major, please sit. Dr. Weir, McKay found a mention of the planet in the database. It might contain defensive weapons. Drones to be specific. It could be a dangerous outpost. We need our best people on it. That's why the change.” He raised his hand to forestall Benson's next comment. “McKay worked at the Antarctic Outpost, and he's been working on Ancient weapons here in Atlantis. He has much more experience with these systems. That's just the way it is.” He glanced repressively at Rodney. “I'm sure the Major's expertise will be appreciated.”


Rodney glared back. “I'm sure the Major and his two will be a help. It'll be a long walk and there's a lot of gear to carry.”


Benson turned a lovely shade of red. “Now see here. I'm not a pack animal.”


But your two assistants are?”


They'll do as they're told. We're military.”


Then you'll take orders from the Colonel since he outranks you. Oh, and by the way, so-do-I.”


Elizabeth was taken by surprise by the outburst. She stated firmly, “Gentlemen.” Turning to Sheppard, “Colonel are there personnel problems I'm unaware of?”


Sheppard turned to McKay. “Well, McKay. Are there?”


McKay turned to Elizabeth. “I think we can work together on this project. I was just reminding Benson of the chain of command.”


I'm sure Major Benson knows who he reports to, Doctor McKay. And you do, too, Doctor.”


McKay actually seemed speechless for just a moment. “Huh? Oh, of course Dr. Weir.”


Elizabeth swept a sharp gaze around the table. Only Ronon's smirk kept her from a more stern reprimand.


Sheppard laid his tablet down on the table a little harder than necessary. “Actually, I'd like a Jumper to bring the majority of the supplies and equipment after we settle in. The outpost isn't so far from the Gate that walking will delay us unduly, and we have no idea what we'll need even in the short term. This way we won't keep the Jumper tied up for longer than necessary, and it will be available for supply runs or an emergency. It might take a while to decide if this outpost is worth our time and effort. Hopefully, someday, we'll need a Jumper to bring ordnance back from the outpost.”


McKay smirked. “If it proves to be more uninteresting than we hope we can leave the Major and the marines to finish up.”


And I'll send the jumper for them when they're ready to pack up and come back, McKay.”


McKay looked less happy. “Right.”


Benson looked almost murderous but McKay was right. He was outranked every which way.


...


Benson was seething with anger. He couldn't seem to make any headway against McKay or Sheppard, and they kept putting them on minor assignments. He wasn't even going to be in charge of this make-work mission. His fury was looking for a target, any target.


Why does that barbarian get to sit in on daily briefings? What could he contribute to so-called 'leadership' here? I'd be more help to Dr. Weir by trying to curb that fool, McKay! I'd be working on my research project if it wasn't for him!”


McKay's much more familiar with the Atlantis systems. It's unfortunate that his software upgrade made the engineering upgrade useless.” After seeing the look on Benson's face he quickly added, “At least for now.”


His other assistant answered with an added weak warning. “You can't get at McKay, you mean. Ronon's his friend. So is Sheppard. Even Teyla likes him. He has too many people watching his back, here. Even Dr. Weir puts up with him.”


If possible, Benson's anger only increased. “I underestimated McKay. He's ingratiated himself to all the top people here.”


His second assistant muttered, “Weir picked him for the Expedition. You'll never get him out of the Chief Scientist posting, especially since the Expedition is civilian led.”


Benson glared at his assistants in fury. “I expected at least some support from you two, even if you aren't tops in your fields you must see how McKay is unfit for his position.”


The assistants seemed to feel they'd pushed the boundaries as far as was safe with the Major. One ventured, “Do you have a plan, Doctor?” It didn't hurt to play to his ego. He liked it when people remembered he had a PhD. He wondered privately if there was really much difference between McKay and him. McKay's boasting hadn't seemed to hurt his advancement though. There must be more to the man because even Sheppard had backed him. That was obvious from the first orientation meeting.


Benson seemed to calm down after his comment. He slowly nodded his head and muttered, “A plan. I need a plan. It's a pity the Sergeant is laid up. He was much more loyal than you two. Somehow I need to make a name for myself. All this assignment has gotten me is ridicule.”


...


After the morning briefing, Rodney spent some of his precious time trying to decide what equipment might be needed to tweak the outpost's computers and sync them with the Expedition's. It was a long way to the site and even with a Puddle Jumper to make the trip with the supplies it could take valuable time from research waiting for something as inconsequential as a paper clip. Sheppard was right about that. Luckily, he had lots of experience working off world and with cranky Ancient tech.


He also worried about taking Benson and company. He knew from what little interaction he'd had with them that they weren't team players. Most academics were pretty cutthroat about their work. Benson could complain about him all he wanted but that man was only here for the recognition. He'd seen too many people like that in his years with the SGC. That's one reason Colonel Carter had caught his interest. He'd watched the mismatched members of SG1 with confusion at first, yet he'd learned a lot about team dynamics, and friendship. He'd had a lot to think about during his assignment in Siberia.


...


Sheppard tapped his mic and calmly stated, “McKay. We're leaving without you. Out.”


Oh, you are not leaving without me! I'm here. I'm here.” Rodney grumbled all the way to the waiting teams, buckling his tac vest and getting it tangled up with his backpack strap.


On Benson's face was an all too obvious smirk, and Sheppard didn't want to start the wrangling between the scientists before they'd even left the Gate Room. Sometimes they acted more like sugar-high kindergartners. He tipped his head slightly from Ronon to McKay. Ronon slipped in behind Rodney and had him tucked into the gear before Chuck had a chance to dial the Gate.


Ronon and Teyla's mission was leaving right after theirs. He'd worry about them, but Johnson was a good man. He'd watch out for his team members and Ronon's two apprentice “spies”, Loris and Dokan. Ronon would have his hands full with those two. They were still young enough to be excited about their new “apprentice spy” status, even though they knew how important it was to tell no one.


They waited for the returning SG team from the Alpha Site to dial in. With three teams leaving, it made sense to make sure the other team made it back without problems.


The Gate dialed on time and the team walked through. They all wore big smiles. When the Gate shut down, they nodded to friends on the leaving teams and made jokes about setting out to find another “Lavender Puff” menace. That was, until they seemed to find something strange in the air. Corporal Dewey scrunched up his nose and muttered, “Man. What died in here?” He got a hard elbow jab to the side before his eyes widened in understanding. “Geez, you guys. Sorry.” The other teammates made similar apologies and looked a little less happy to be “home”.


...


The teams going out with Sheppard were happy to finally be allowed off Atlantis. Sheppard had chosen to walk with the teams rather than take the Jumper later. Besides, McKay would have pitched a fit and insisted on accompanying him. This was a planet where they'd only done a cursory survey, and as much as he loved flying, you learned a lot by walking in. Hopefully the outpost would be the answer to their drone problem. If it was they'd be spending a lot of time here. For safety's sake, a closer inspection was warranted.


After the Gate closed down, Sheppard directed two men from the four man Marine team to guard the Gate. The other two came with Sheppard, McKay, Benson, and the 'plus two'. At least they wouldn't have to deal with the Sergeant. He was left in the infirmary. Sheppard really had to learn their names. He was getting as bad as McKay.


He knew Rodney would make his thoughts on this trip obvious before long, and he was right.


Colonel, really, couldn't I have waited and come through with the Jumper when it brings the heavy equipment? I can actually do work while I'm waiting and take readings during the trip. Sometimes it seems that all we do is walk here and there and back again when we could fly and save so much valuable time.”


Hey. You always think of the cons and not the pros. You'll get to assess the site and decide what we need and how we'll proceed. And just think, you won't have to go run with Ronon and me while we're here, and maybe we'll find something interesting that isn't in the outpost. Or maybe we'll find another ally.”


Right. Another ally. Then we'll have to learn their rituals and festivals and … oh … for what? More tava beans?”


Sheppard grinned. McKay was just blowing off steam. Benson would make anyone irritable. He knew McKay was actually okay with the dreaded tava bean because he really liked them. Most days. Of course, that spell when we had only tava beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, had soured him on the poor defenseless vegetable. He remembered some truly bizarre concoctions by the mess hall cooks. There was even a betting pool on just how many ways you can boil, bake, saute, marinate, stew, and, oh yeah, sprout a tava bean. But when they dried them and made the tava beans into flour, that was the topper. Tava bean cake was not well received.


...


McKay eventually asked, “Well, don't you think it's about time for a break?”


Sheppard grinned. McKay was right on time. “We haven't gotten to the top of the hill.”


It's a long hill.”


Sheppard couldn't help a smirk. “I'll tell you a secret. It's uphill all the way.”


You're kidding!”


McKay, sit down. We'll take a break. Make sure you eat something, and check for energy readings.


Oh, really? Like I can't recall that routine. Check. Check.” Followed by the sound of a power bar wrapper torn open. Then a muffled comment. “Faint readings from the direction of the outpost. Do you have any other suggestions for me?”


No readings for people? For Wraith? Hopefully no predators either.”


Rodney looked a little closer as he checked his readings again. He sighed and drooped a bit. “No predators. At least, no big ones.” He fiddled with the LSD again, altering lifesign parameters while he chewed, but he watched closely.


Benson followed Sheppard as he directed two marines to guard the perimeter. “Is there something we could be doing, studying, working on plans, … something … before we reach the site, Colonel? Dr. McKay hasn't given us any direction.”


Not at the moment, if McKay hasn't suggested anything. Just take a break. We always seem to go into these situations with very little information. McKay's looking for signs in the readings. Hopefully we'll get some clues from that.”


Benson stood stiffly with his hands clasped behind his back. “You know that we're trained for field missions. You don't need to coddle us Colonel.”


Sheppard stiffened a bit, and looked Benson right in the eye. “I'm aware of your training. I've seen your personnel file, and I've read it in depth.” Sheppard glanced quickly around before continuing softly. “You seem to think that those science missions were equal to first contact missions. Every one of your missions were follow-up assignments. They weren't missions that went to hell in a pretty spectacular way. You think you have McKay beat on that score, but you're wrong. Very wrong. I've seen McKay face down a Wraith more than once, and sometimes with firepower that would barely make them blink, but he went out and did it anyway. Did you read the report about the energy entity? He saved all of us. The whole Expedition.”


It was clear Benson was gritting his teeth, wanting desperately to defend his record in comparison with McKay's, but he went about it all wrong. “Yes. I read the report. He lost a valuable asset, a personal shield, because he couldn't wait to show off.”


Sheppard's coldest look made the man step back in surprise, if not in fear. “Benson. We'd just come through to another galaxy. We'd found some pretty horrendous enemies. McKay thought he'd found a shield that could keep us from getting killed. And he tested it on himself. He didn't know it would be keyed to him. And even though he didn't know if it would keep him safe, he engaged the energy entity, and it burned the device out. That device that McKay wore saved the Expedition. Do you still think it was a waste? Do you want to keep on? Because there are a whole bunch of other examples I can give you.”


Benson obviously thought better of that idea. “I'll just … tell my men to take a break.”


That would be good. Hey, and if you want to do something useful, cooperate on this mission. It may seem like a milk run but … remember the puff balls. They weren't deadly, but they were unexpected and just their presence ended the mission.”


Benson paled a bit and nodded once sharply. It wasn't likely that he'd forget. He reflected bitterly that he knew he was going to be reminded of it for years to come.


And Benson,” Sheppard stated, “you should be grateful for that mission. It's one where everyone came back alive.”


...


They reached the outpost in the early afternoon.


Alright everyone. Make camp. Colson, you and I can check out the perimeter. I sincerely hope we don't meet anyone on this planet but let's not let our guard down.”


McKay muttered softly, “Well, I haven't detected anyone yet, but there's always tomorrow. Hmm … ”


Benson was impatient to get started, it seemed. He interrupted before McKay could continue. “I think we've wasted enough time on this mission. Since we'll have most of the afternoon and evening, we should at least find the entrance so that when we're settled we can begin evaluating the site.”


McKay waved his index finger in the air quickly before returning it to the computer. “Already on it. Have been on it for the last couple of kilometers. This … outpost … or it might be better described as a half collapsed trash heap … is not giving up it's secrets easily. Just help set up camp. I'll have this figured out by the time you're done. If not, I might find a useful project for you by then.”


Sheppard leaned over McKay's shoulder as Benson turned to the assistants who already had their tent half up. He spoke softly, “I think you enjoy making him grind his teeth like that.”


McKay looked around at Sheppard quickly, surprised by the comment, and smirked. Then he took a moment to look more closely at Benson. “Does he even know 'how' to put up a tent, or do his lackeys always do it for him?”


Now Sheppard had to look. “Is this guy for real? I knew Boy Scouts that did better. And Girl Scouts, too.”


You'd better not malign the Girl Scouts. Madison did a great job, even though it was in her back yard. And she's five.” He grimaced at Sheppard. “It had a unicorn on it. How can Jeannie let her have a unicorn tent? Maddie is a smart kid. She doesn't need all the foolishness about fake animals.”


Was it pink?”


McKay's shoulders slumped. “And it had silver glitter.”


Sheppard snorted and nodded toward his tablet. “Like you said. She's five. Let her have fun.” He nodded to the outpost and added, “Let me know when you've got it figured out.”


...


Figuring it out seemed more improbable the longer McKay worked.


Benson, and his two, were more impediments than help. When they kept hovering Rodney finally found a job for them. He had them lock into the security feed and electronically inventory the contents of every hall, room, and closet while Rodney tried to find the control room. Hopefully one of them would find it. If they never found a blueprint in the database it would come in very handy, and they'd have some idea of the work and supplies needed to make it a usable site.


John and the two Marines started the “grunt” work they were often teased about by the scientists. Unfortunately it was work that had to be done. Shoring up the battered walls around the entrance was essential if they were going to get anywhere with this project. Sheppard let Barris have the lead on that because of his civil engineering background. The Colonel didn't relish setting foot in there before getting the go-ahead from someone who knew what they were doing.


The only real luck they'd had so far was locating what looked like a storeroom with drone casings. If they could find the inner workings, or figure out how they were made, it would be well worth the effort and the time.


McKay's bellow greeted him as he came out for some water and to dust himself off.


There you are! About time. Sheppard! I found the control room.”


Sheppard came to stand beside him to look at the screen. He leaned down to see the path it showed that led down the hallway to the control room. It looked like a clear route if they bore left at the end of the intact storeroom with the drone casings and went two levels down. “Can you get any readings from it?”


Well, there's power leading to it but once I try to connect to the grid it shuts me out at the door.”


That's bad. Is it a trap?”


Oh, no. Found the traps. But no power at all would be bad, although we'd just have to bring in a generator. I'm sure we'll need a generator anyway when, or if, we start production. It's probably just a severed system. It shouldn't be a problem.”


Huh. If you say so McKay. I'll let the men know. How's Benson doing?”


Well, the inventory is working out fine. I think it's going to be very helpful. What we've detected on the sensors jives with what we've found so far. When we get into the control room …


And get the power hooked up ...”


Yes, and that. Then we can search the database for what we really need.”


Sheppard rubbed his hands together, and with a gleam in his eye said, “Yeah. Drones. And how to make them.”


Rodney glanced over at Benson. “He's not going to like it, but we can't do any more until we get inside, and I'm sure your guys could use a break.”


Sheppard's eyebrows rose. “Wait a minute. You're volunteering to help dig out the debris?”


Rodney hurried to correct that notion. “No! I need to start tracing conduits to be ready to connect the power. But that doesn't require four people. Benson's group could be more useful to you.”


Oh. Okay. Sure. You'll be busy, and I'll keep them out of your hair.”


Well, yeah.” Rodney industriously focused on his tablet.


Sheppard snorted softly. “Good save, there, McKay.”


...

Sheppard took another sip of his too hot coffee, and sighed inwardly at Benson's approach. Their conversations always left him tense.


Colonel Sheppard.”


Major Benson. How's the work coming? Too bad there's so much damage, but I'm hoping things will be better when we get deeper into the outpost and away from the area that storms have torn up.”


Benson looked like he had been ready to blurt less polite words, and he looked like they were difficult to choke down. Sheppard really liked getting in the first word. And the last one, too, of course.


Benson finally seemed to find his voice but the anger hadn't diminished. “I really find the work tedious. And you obviously know it's scut work. McKay is just trying to humiliate me.”


I gave the order, Benson.”


At his suggestion I would guess.”


Sheppard nodded agreement. “Of course. I asked him about his work. He said whatever was left to do didn't require four men. Do you disagree?”


Benson looked positively ready to explode. “I. I haven't seen the work he's done. He hasn't consulted with me about it's progress.”


He's head of Science. He's very well versed in Ancient weapon systems. I don't think he needs to consult with you since you're not an expert on Ancient outposts of any kind, and he kind of … is.”


My research area is in power production. I have a PhD. in Electrical Engineering. I believe I could be of assistance to McKay.”


Well, he would have asked, or ordered, because he can do that if you're going to work under him. That degree of yours says nothing about Ancient Engineering so I'm not sure how much help you'd be to McKay right now. If you're going to work under my authority, I need you and your men to help clear the debris. That's so we can get to the control room and you can work on your science … stuff.”


Is that your final word, Colonel.”


For now. Dismissed.” He didn't have to consult with Benson either.


Benson's hands twitched with frustration as he turned abruptly away, and Sheppard sighed but smiled as he took a “just right” sip of his coffee. Coffee wasn't only coveted by geeks.


...


The work continued for the rest of the day. The Ancient earthworks had been undermined over the years, but the structural integrity of the components was still as good as new. Barris had no problem finding ways to shore up the walls in the entrance of the outpost.


There were no casualties except some scraped knuckles and aching backs. Sheppard was pleased with the progress and McKay would occasionally glance up and wince at muffled crashes and clouds of dust that would billow out the door. Both of them noticed that Benson liked to direct from the rear, at least until they reached the control room.


Rodney was still leaning over his computer. He stopped typing for just a moment and yelled, “Sheppard. Did they tell you they reached the control room?”


No. Did they?”


Better pull the Marines out of there! Benson's poking where he shouldn't, the idiot!”


Sheppard, himself covered in dust, set down his coffee and spoke into his mic as he ran back to the entrance. “Benson! You better drop what you're touching, and Marines, McKay says get away from him for your own safety.”


Benson followed as the Marines scrambled to leave the outpost. “What is your problem, McKay? I was simply checking connections.”


Rodney twisted his tablet around. “See this? Energy spike. Not good!”


Benson stood with arms akimbo, staring at him. “This is ridiculous. Nothing was going to happen except now the power is available to run the consoles...”


There was a muted boom, groaning of timbers, clatter of small debris, and another large dusting of … dust. Benson looked surprised. He took a step toward the entrance.


Benson! You really are a moron! You managed to re-engage one of the traps I disarmed. Stay back until I give the all clear! And then wait for Barris to check the support system again.”


Sheppard muttered softly as he strode past Benson. “You should stop grinding your teeth. You'll wear them down before your assignment is up.”


...


Sheppard asked, “Do you think this site is worth the time and effort?”


McKay sighed. “Oh, yeah. If it works out, we could supply Atlantis and Antarctica with drones. So, to protect us and Earth, yeah, any effort would be worth it. If Benson doesn't screw it up. I still don't trust him. We'd have to leave at least a couple of Marines to guard them and keep them out of trouble. I just don't want them to be ordered to do clean up for Benson and his people.”


Me neither. I'll make my orders clear but they will be under his command, him being a Major and all. We'll need to set an automated alarm for the Gate after things are settled. For now I'll leave two men on guard there, just in case. They'll be able to contact Atlantis for updates and if help is needed. In the future we'll want the Gate area to look unused, too, so we'll probably use Jumpers in the future for supply and transport.”


...


Benson, the assistants, and McKay worked at getting the consoles to give up their information. The explosion had done some damage but they'd managed to scrounge enough bits and pieces to cobble together a patch after re-configuring the power conduits.


There was a noticeable change though. McKay sniped at Benson at every turn, yet Benson surprisingly held his temper. The change came right after the explosion. The fact that McKay saved his neck seemed to have made an impression on him. Or maybe he realized that he, Benson, was not the expert here.


Sheppard didn't have much to do for the time being, and managed to draw Rodney's ire as much as Benson did. Benson would watch the two and frown. Sheppard didn't seem upset with the rants or the name calling. He didn't mind being asked to initialize the Ancient devices either. He was right there with the Marines doing the heavy lifting when needed. He was the man in charge of the military on Atlantis. He was a Colonel, and Benson just didn't get it.


McKay was loud, obnoxious, and overbearing. He wondered why the Colonel had such tolerance of McKay's histrionics. Where was the contempt for his vulnerabilities? McKay wasn't military, but he was of equal rank on the Expedition. That must be the reason. Otherwise he could think of no explanation.


McKay stood and waved imperiously to Sheppard. “Look at this, Sheppard. What do you think?”


Sheppard strolled over to look at the tablet. Benson could only see part of the string of mathematical symbols but it looked like the explosive yield of a drone. He knew that the SGC had a lot of basic information on what damage a drone could do, but not much in the way of scientific evaluation. He stepped closer to have a better look.


Well!” asked McKay sharply.


The math looks good. The yield differential at higher payload … is that right? You can increase the payload that much?”


Of course it's right. Evidently the Ancients liked to blow stuff up, too. The math is correct?”


Sheppard grinned, “I'd say you just made my day.”


McKay grinned in response and bounced on his toes. “Wait till Colonel Carter sees this. She's one of the few people in two galaxies that can appreciate those figures.”


Sheppard grinned and asked, “What do you think would happen if we super-sized a drone?”


This isn't McD's. You don't get the size you want, and maybe shouldn't have, just because!” Rodney sat down to begin typing again.


But McKay, can we make it the size we need? With enough of a payload could you make one to crack a hive?”


McKay suddenly stopped typing. “I don't know. Seems like the Ancients would have done that if they could.”


Sheppard's enthusiasm disappeared as fast as it had come. He shrugged. “Well, keep it in mind. Okay?”


Hmm. Maybe there's some way to focus the charge for more impact. A shaped charge of sufficient yield might be enough … or paired charges, say on opposite sides of a hive?”


Sheppard grinned. “I like the way you're thinking.”


One of the Marines called to Sheppard and he jogged across the camp to see what the problem was.


Benson stepped closer to the tablet, finally taking in the sense of the figures there.


McKay waited a moment. “Well? Do you see it?”


Benson slowly nodded, then he tipped his head up to glance at Sheppard. “You had him check your math.”


Sure.”


But he's not on the Science team.”


McKay grunted. “And that's a bad thing?”


You could have asked me. Why didn't you?”


Benton. Specs on a drone weapon? He gets it. Did you see how excited he was? He's been here in Pegasus from day one. Don't let him fool you. He is not a moron.”


It's Benson, not Benton,” he muttered but without his usual bitter inflection, but still with underlying arrogance, “and remember, I was nominated for a Nobel.”


McKay knew Benson was proud of his academic achievements and didn't appreciate having them disparaged. “Pfft. Come on. You know there are people all over the world doing top secret research that will never be famous, never win an award, or even an honorable mention.”


Well, the Nobel committee seemed impressed.”


Really? What do they know about the science out here? Even you know more than them. Hell, we're probably lucky they haven't gotten this far. We'd have probably blown everything up by now.”


Benson managed to tamp down his ire and look thoughtful.


...


A message from the Marines at the Gate came through for Colonel Sheppard. A treaty obligation was going to come due and Sheppard had been requested to attend a ceremony. Indeed, his entire team was expected. Ronon and Teyla were waiting for them.


Oh, do I have to?”


Sheppard's eyebrows popped skyward. “What, are you five? McKay, we agreed to return for the last payment. You remember. You said it sounded like a mortgage burning party. Almost a barbecue. There's supposed to be a festival. You know. Whole roast almost-wildebeast. Wine. Little cakes. Wine. Dancing. And more wine. Good stuff. Not to be missed. Even you liked these people.”


McKay looked at his tablet again. “But we're almost done. At least, I'm almost done. Benson and the others will be staying and I can't leave before the last simulations are done. That'll take hours. Unless, they're going to send a Jumper?”


They're sending one for us. It'll be here any minute. Barris and Colson are heading back to the Gate with us, too. They're going to take over for the two Marines back there. If I don't get Hitchens and Cianchette back in time for the soccer playoffs I'll be accused of rigging the game.”


The playoffs are starting? Tell Zelenka to put me down for Hitchens team.”


Hey! What about my team?”


Rodney hesitated only a moment. “Well, football is your game. Not soccer.”


Then McKay glanced over where Benson was working and his shoulders slumped. “I'd better stay. I don't want them to do something stupid. If the simulation doesn't pan out, then I'm going to have to tweak it until it does. Once they have a plan to put in place they're competent enough to follow it. I hope. The assistants aren't stupid, just browbeaten. Being academics with military training screwed them up, if you ask me. They don't defend themselves, and just because Benson has a higher rank doesn't mean he's right academically. They need to have the confidence to keep him from screwing up.” Sigh. “Have fun at the party.”


Sheppard punched him in the arm and waited for the expected “ow” and the wounded look on Rodney's face. “I'll save you some cake.”


Promise?”


Well, I don't remember them having doggy bags.” But Sheppard grinned as he turned away.


Promise?” Rodney yelled hoping to get an affirmative. “You better not mention cake and then not save me some! You do things like that for teammates!” Rodney continued muttering happily to himself, “Especially the teammate that controls the shower temperature.”


Sheppard left laughing.


...


McKay and Benson had their heads together watching the simulation end. They were both holding their breath, but it came to a satisfactory end with no warnings of any kind. No alarms, no red strobe effect, no flames, no deep rumbling, no lightning striking, no voice announcing doom, … no countdown to self-destruction … nothing.


Huh. I am NOT going to jinx this. Just, for the present, it looks like you maybe … might … have a go on this project, Major.”


Benson allowed himself to relax a bit. Finally an assignment that meant something besides backbreaking labor. And it was important. When he got back to Earth he wouldn't have the humiliation of his last, essentially unusable, project. Maybe it would even help downplay that lavender-menace planet.


This would get him the recognition he needed to further his career. At least he wouldn't be consigned to this dead-end posting for long. He was smart enough to finally admit the fact that without Sheppard's or McKay's backing, he'd never get ahead out here. There was really no place to go. “Military Scientist” was actually a very small department on Atlantis. He was already at the top of that unit.


...


The next day was clear and warm. That afternoon, after they got back to Atlantis from the debt-paid-off party, the rest of AR-1 would come to collect Rodney. Rodney felt that would leave him too much time to be in Benson's company, especially after the simulations ended successfully. He didn't want to shoot the guy. He just wanted him somewhere else. Or, preferably, himself somewhere else. But it wasn't safe to split up, and there really wasn't any logical reason for it. So that left McKay, Benson, and his crew, time to get the site in order before they could implement the repairs that would be necessary before they could even begin to make a schedule for the production of drones.


They'd been lucky to have located a small stockpile of basic minerals and alloys on site. It would be enough for a trial run, when they got to that point. They couldn't believe their luck to have found a case of explosive inner cores safely in stasis in the lowest level, and there wasn't as much damage there. Getting to it safely was still a problem though. More structural work had to be done before retrieval, or any production work started.


Looking over the resources available Rodney thought he could fix the shield that had somehow been damaged, probably by running on low power in electrical storms. All he'd need is a generator, or two. It would be good to have a cloak for emergencies, too.


Although they hadn't experienced any foul weather themselves, the ground level had obviously borne the brunt of extreme weather for an unknown number of centuries. A portable weather station would be useful, too. Another item to add to the long list of supplies and upgrades needed.


He needed to talk to Barris and plan for the necessary structural work, too. This site was going to take a lot of planning and a lot of work, but Rodney knew they needed drones so anything that had to be done, would be done. It would also cement the importance of Pegasus as a whole to the IOA if both Earth's and Atlantis' defenses depended in part on the drones.


Once the outpost was in production, this would be of strategic importance to the military. He wondered if Benson realized his posting here might be longer than the end of this rotation? When Earth's best defense was an Ancient control chair, and it's best weapon was produced in the Pegasus Galaxy, it became a very important resource indeed, and Benson would be the local expert.


Even though Benson would learn a lot about Ancient tech, Rodney was still years ahead of him. Rodney allowed himself a small sigh. It looked like Benson might be a thorn in his side for a while.


...


Morning finally come to their campsite several hours ago, and Rodney was packing up his tent and the rest of the gear that wasn't needed. He was heading back toward the entrance of the outpost to check in with the others when a gust of dusty air hit him in the face. He dropped everything and stood for a moment.

“Oh, no, no, no.”


He tapped his mic and asked, “Benson, can you read? Benson!”


It took Benson a few minutes to come staggering out of the entrance covered in dust and coughing harshly.


Benson.”


Benson's hand waved jerkily. “We're okay. I think.”


You think? How ...”


No. Really.” His coughing was subsiding. “We were working on the last corridor before the basement-level transporter.”


Well.”


The ceiling collapsed. There's a lot of dirt and some plant material. It definitely came from up top. One of my men is on the other side of the debris. We could talk so it's not a solid blockade. He said he's okay, but I want to get him out as soon as possible. I don't know how stable that area is. We thought we'd shored it up enough.”


We need to get real struts in there to support the area further before we dig around anymore. It would be helpful to get Barris back here.”


I can call him. He could leave Colson at the Gate. Maybe send a message through to send a couple extra men. We ...” Benson stopped abruptly as Rodney reached for the radio in his ear.


What is it?” Benson asked.


McKay tapped his mic. “Barris, what's up?”


Sir, five unknowns came through the Gate. I'm not sure, but they could be Wraith Worshipers. And, I think they're going to settle in.”


Great. Just wonderful. Barris, you and Colson stay put. We'll be right there. At least, as fast as we can.”


Rodney turned to grab his gear. “Benson, tell your men we've got company and until we know if they're allies or at least friendlies, they'll be on their own for a while. We need to ...”


Wait a minute. We need to make sure they're secure in there. I don't want to leave them here if it's in danger of collapsing further.”


Tell them they'll have to start without us. We need to get to the Gate before Sheppard's party walks through.”


Surely Barris and Colson can warn them before they come through the Gate. They'll be safe enough if they can bring a Jumper through. It will be hours before we can get back here.”


If they don't get the message in time before they step through, then they'll be sitting ducks. Unless your men are in imminent danger we need to go to back them up.”


Now wait just a minute. I'm the ranking officer. It's my decision, and I'm not leaving my men behind.”


Rodney stopped and really looked at Benson a moment. “Good. That's a rule I totally agree with. Look, they might not be Wraith worshipers, but they haven't left the area by the Gate. That probably means they could have set up a meeting here, and we don't know how many will be coming through.


But also, I know you haven't been in Pegasus long, and you haven't met up with actual, you know, people, yet, so there's no way you could know if they're friendly. What if they're people we know? Colson and Barris didn't say they recognized them, but my team usually does first contact missions. I might recognize them. I'd really rather not shoot people that are friendly. I need to go.


And I'd really like to meet them somewhere else if they're not friendly, not here at the outpost, which is a really important asset, or where we'd have to make a stand because we have a man trapped. And may I remind you that you said they weren't in danger in there. Hopefully you're right and they can dig out of that mess with enough time. Now. Do we wait for our visitors here, or do we go and find out who they are and if they're just here being … tourists?”


Benson was breathing fast. Not quite in panic but Rodney was also sure he was trying to make a decision and his thoughts were too jumbled because nothing coherent issued from the Major.


He tapped his mic to contact the two in the outpost. “Tell me honestly … are you in danger or is the collapse mainly a bother? There's a reason I'm asking because we may have visitors. Five life-signs just came through the Gate, but not Wraith. They may be waiting for more arrivals. That will leave you on your own for a while.”


Sir. We're fine, sir. If you need to go, we'll work this out. We just need to shore this up better. It shouldn't take more than maybe an hour to fix it.”


Good. Okay. Don't do anything fancy, just get yourselves out of there. Fix it later when we get back after we bring in more structural components. Okay?”


Yes, sir.”


Let me know if you get into a worse situation in there. We'll be back as soon as we can. We have to check this out, and back up Barris and Colson if necessary. And don't forget, relief is coming through the Gate in about three hours. Any questions?”


Yes, Sir. What about Major Benson?”


He's fine. He's going with me, right Major?”


Benson nodded jerkily.


Yeah. He's coming with me. Out.”


Rodney strode across the camp. He grabbed his tac vest, backpack, and clipped on his P-90.


Benson. Gear up.”


Benson looked at Rodney's P-90 like he'd never seen one before.


McKay sighed mightily and forced out slow words. “Yes, and I know how to use it. … Benson, just because you're military, doesn't mean you know what you're doing. You've been trained but you've never once had to use weapons against people. Remember, as Chief of Science I've seen your file, even your military file. You've never had to kill anybody. I'd sleep better at night if I could say the same, and who knows what today will bring. Hopefully I won't add to the body count. Can you hold it together, Benson, or should you stay here with your men? Maybe that would be best.”


Benson jerked like Rodney had hit him. “No. I'll come. There are five of them. And maybe more coming, like you said.”


He finally unfroze enough to gather his gear and strap on his holster. Rodney never went anywhere off planet without his handgun, even though he had to clean his weapon more in all this dust and dirt. He wondered about Benson's men. Were they really just his assistants? They always had their weapons, and they always had his six. Maybe they were his guards. That would explain a lot.


They moved out quickly. McKay leading the way. “Benson, keep a watch on our six. I don't think they've had time to flank us but they could be meeting someone that's already on the planet. You need to get used to keeping your attention focused but moving at all times. And please don't be trigger happy. We can hope they just miss-dialed. Maybe they're just hunters looking for food and shelter. That just isn't usually our luck. Or my team's luck.”


They half jogged, and kept silent till they left the animal trail that would have taken them to the Gate.


McKay. Wait up a minute.” Benson's voice was a little breathy. “We're leaving the trail to the Gate.”


Rodney was willing to take a break to catch his breath. “Well, one of the things I always check out in a new place is the topography. My specialty isn't strategy but I always locate things like high ground, ravines, and waterways. The highest ground near the Gate is this way.”


Oh. Uh, good to know.”


McKay shook his head, bit back his words, and kept moving.


Do you have a plan?”


Yes, actually. Don't get killed. Don't get anyone else killed. Watch each others six. Don't leave anyone behind. Hold out till Sheppard comes through, and warn him so he can bring a Jumper.” McKay gestured to a faint animal trail through the brush. “In other words, we're not soldiers. We need to keep our heads down, get as much intel as we can, and be there if and when they need our help.”


It doesn't sound like much of a plan.”


What can I say? Sheppard says the best plan is usually the simplest. That way you can improvise as needed.”


Improvise?”


Yeah. You know. What Sheppard does. Make it up as he goes along.”


I think I've actually heard that about him.”


I could tell you stories.”


...


Do you recognize any of them?” Benson asked softly.


Rodney sighed and whispered. “No. Why couldn't they be tourists? Just once.”


I think they have a couple of Wraith stun weapons as well as rifles and handguns.”


Yeah. They could use some fashion advice, so, probably they're Wraith Worshipers. Wonderful.”


What are they doing down there?”


Looks like they're camping out. Certainly staying a while. Damn. They're going to be sitting within sight of the Gate when Sheppard comes through.”


Maybe … we could draw them away.”


Not a great idea. You did count them, didn't you?”


Benson's chagrin was showing. “I just thought ...”


McKay waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “No. It was a stupid thought. Have you seen me run? Not the fastest jogger on Atlantis. I think we'll have to wait until the Gate opens and be ready to radio a warning to bring a Jumper and a few Marines because we've got company. If we're not fast enough with the message then we can be the distraction.”


That's it? Sit and wait?”


Rodney shifted to glare at Benson. “Better than being Wraith food, because they'll take us prisoner to be turned over for torture and lunch. Then they get their reward from the Wraith.”


Rewarded.” Benson actually sounded curious. “How?”


McKay just sighed in disgust. “I thought you read the mission reports. I know there were classes. They must have given you the background on the Wraith!”


Of course they did, but I sent one of my assistants to take notes. There was no reason I couldn't get the information I needed that way.”


Sort of the Cliff Notes version, once removed.”


I was going over plans for my project.”


Well you missed some interesting points. I have to wonder what you missed on the way to your PhD.. Never mind. I think this is a good time to declare “radio silence”. They're going to be doing perimeter searches and we need to be on our toes. So, no noise.”


That includes you, too?” Benson asked petulantly.


Rodney turned a cold, cold, glare on the Major, and didn't say a word. Benson just nodded abruptly.


They continued their surveillance and tried to keep track of the five “visitors” for the next half hour. They hadn't heard anything from the two left at the outpost and Rodney was a little worried that they might be in trouble, or they might do something stupid like try to find them, because he hadn't told them to stay put after digging their way out. Not great planning. Maybe Benson should be in charge. No, he probably wouldn't have thought of it either. Obviously neither of them had thought of it.


Then, the Gate began to dial.


McKay gave a panicked glance at Benson. He didn't realize yet.
“Benson ...”


Is that Sheppard? Are you sending a message?”


It's too early! It's not Sheppard.”


Five more “visitors” stalked through the Gate.


McKay turned to look at Benson. “Same plan, doubled. Just stay low. Stay quiet.”


...


It was another tense fifteen minutes as the two groups mingled and settled at their camp. Then the Gate activated again.


McKay was ready. “Mayday. Mayday. Atlantis. Delay coming through the Gate. This is McKay. There are ten hostiles located in sight of the Gate. I think they're Worshipers. Benson is here with me. We had to leave the other two at the Outpost. There was a minor cave in and they're working to get one of them out. Let's just say I think we need a bigger crew or a Jumper to take care of these guys, unless you expect us to fight them off and get to the Gate. Just joking on that last bit. Forget I said that. Help would be good about now. Out.”


“McKay. We read you. We'll keep the Gate open until we muster a couple of teams
and a Jumper to the rescue. Are the hostiles moving?”


No, and I don't think that's good. They must have been expecting more of their own, or maybe a Wraith. But since you opened the Gate and didn't come through they realize somethings up. Yeah, they're scattering for cover all around the clearing.”


Are you in a secure place?”


We're on the high ground to the north. It's pretty rocky so it's good cover and protected. Barris and Colson are here, too. They're at their chosen station, on the ridge to the right.”


Good. Stay there. Barris?”


Yes, sir?”


When we start to clear the Gate I'll give you guys a head's up. I want you to get to McKay and Benson. And be careful. There should be enough of a distraction from us, but watch it.”


Yes, sir.”


...


The Atlantis teams had firepower and surprise on their side, as well as having four men already flanking the hostiles, but that didn't stop the Worshipers from fighting back.


Atlantis held the Gate open as long as it could, but it had taken twenty minutes to muster more teams and get the Jumper supplied and in position. At the end of 38 minutes it had to close down. Moments later it engaged once again and the arrival of a Wraith dart gave everyone a start.


Barris and Colson were already firing when Rodney aimed his P-90 at this new target, and Benson was only a moment behind.


That left them open to fire from a Worshiper heading for the high ground himself. It was only moments before shots were ricocheting around them. Barris swore inventively as rock chips flew. Rodney was thrown back against solid ledge and Benson dropped behind a boulder when Colson did.


Sheppard, in the Jumper, quickly ended the dart's flight. It crashed less than a kilometer away to the north, causing a bright flash. Luckily no one was in the path of that. One of the Marines, Colson, took out the Wraith Worshiper that had headed their way.


Sheppard set the Jumper down in the clearing by the Gate. He let down the ramp and left the two teams of Marines to chase down the ones that had escaped into the forest.


Barris here, Colonel. McKay has been injured.”


Sheppard was about to demand more information when he heard the mic click.


I'm okay! Just hit my vest. Ow.”


When Sheppard received an 'all accounted for' he ordered part of the rescue party to guard the Gate. This incident would complicate things with the outpost but it was going to be a much needed resource; one they wouldn't give up without a fight. They needed a cloak on the outpost as soon as possible, and then let unwelcome visitors wander as they pleased... unless they could rig up a shield, although that might make them take too much notice of this planet and wonder about what made it so valuable. He hoped they'd think it was just a coincidental meeting, but he had a feeling that security was going to be a bitch.


...


After updating Atlantis, Sheppard piloted the Jumper back to the Outpost with Ronon, Teyla, McKay, Benson, Barris, and the rest of the Marines that had come with him except for one to stay with Colson. It wouldn't take long to return if more visitors showed up.


From contact with Benson's assistants Sheppard knew they'd been able to dig out. When he saw the mess at the outpost he figured they'd need to do a better job of shoring up the unstable area before they did anything else.


The assistants were glad that Major Benson was alright, while Sheppard was pretty glad that McKay was alright, and he had to wonder how McKay and Benson had gotten along during this mission. This was Benson's second “milk run” in a row. He thought Benson and his crew might not mind three weeks on the Daedalus after this.


Barris. You have a few scratches. Have the medic check you out before you take a look at the outpost.”


Barris rubbed at a spot on his chin. “I'm okay, sir.”


Take my word for it. Alien bugs are not to be trifled with.”


Barris chuckled. “Yes, sir. McKay's going to be sore. He took a shot in the vest.”


I know. He told me all about it on the way here.”


Barris grinned. “I know. I was in the Jumper, too. But he did a good job, sir.” He looked around to make sure no one heard and he added, “Benson was a little, inexperienced, I would say. Any instructions came from McKay. I think he told him what needed to be done, and where to go … and to be quiet.”


That couldn't have gone over well.”


Barris thought a moment. “Not at first, but when Benson thought about it he must have known McKay was doing what needed to be done, so he followed his lead.”


Good to know, Captain. Thanks.”


Yes, sir.”


...


Sheppard said, “You can take off the tac vest now.”


Rodney sighed dramatically and poked a finger through the hole in the cloth of his tac vest. “There goes another one. Sheppard, did the lowest bidders make these?”


Sheppard snorted, “The armor seemed to work just fine. It did work fine, didn't it?”


Rodney rolled his head from side to side in a vain attempt to relax sore muscles. “Well, I'll be feeling sore for a week. By the way, it worked fine again, you mean.”


Well, yeah. We give them a good workout.”


Sheppard saw Benson walk slowly toward them.


Ah, Dr. McKay. I hope you're alright. That was... a close call.”


McKay grimaced. “Oh, I'll live to fight another day.”


Sheppard managed a small grin. “And whine the whole time.”


McKay shifted uncomfortably. “Well, it's not like a paper cut.”


Sheppard's grin got bigger. “You'd whine about that, too.”


Hey, if you want me working at peak efficiency, then I need to be uninjured.”


Sheppard simply grinned, knowing that a feisty McKay would be alright.


Benson shifted and cleared his throat. “I just wanted to say, that McKay did a good job here, Colonel. I'm embarrassed to say he pointed out things that I didn't consider. It was because of his actions that we were there at the Gate to back you up.”


McKay looked speechless, and Sheppard took the opportunity to answer. “I'll be glad to see your mission report. Writing things out for an incident report gives a man time to think things through when there wasn't time to think during the incident. It makes things clear in your head.”


Yes. I think I understand, Colonel. Thank you. Dr. McKay, if you need any help I'll be in the outpost with my men.”


How are they doing, Major.”


The men are good. The hallway is clear, and they're able to move about. Barris is going to assess the matter.”


Excellent. Carry on, Major.”


...


Recommendations had been forwarded to the SGC in the next databurst, and they were more than pleased at the idea of attaining a supply of drones that would be under their control, even if it was in another galaxy. They were so pleased, they sent a return databurst within days, and plans were put into motion immediately to provide protection, supplies, and personnel for this new outpost of Earth. They were also notified that the Daedalus might be delayed a few days until supplies could be collected for transport.


Elizabeth entered the conference room soon after Sheppard and McKay. Benson and Barris were also present. “Good morning. You probably know we received an unscheduled databurst from the SGC yesterday afternoon. I've sent some information to the relevant parties but the major portion concerns the organization of resources to inhabit and protect the outpost on P4C-224.”


Sheppard added, “And to assign personnel, too.”


Elizabeth nodded. “That's right. Perhaps you should announce your information first so the new officer in charge will feel free to join this conversation.”


Sheppard glanced down at his laptop before turning to Major Benson. “Well, Major, sorry for the lack of ceremony, but you're it. You have a new command. You're to take over the restoration of the outpost and begin production at the earliest opportunity.”


Major Benson blinked a few times. “What?”


McKay was sitting across the table from him. “Congratulations Benson. You have a new assignment.”


You did this, McKay! You think I don't know it?”


McKay just waved the accusation away with a flick of his hand. “Not me. I'd have let you go back to Earth. This came from the new databurst, right?” and he glanced from Sheppard to Weir.


Elizabeth looked surprised. “That's right. Major Benson, I must say that I assumed you'd be happy with the new assignment. You'll be in charge of one the most important resources of Earth.”


Sheppard leaned back casually in his chair. “You'll have your own minions, too.” This got a grimace from McKay. “We need to make a lot of plans for the future. McKay and I, and Barris have made note of a number of systems and equipment that you should have out there. We'll need your input on that as well.”


Major Benson looked a little pale. “Hmm. Ah. Is this, this, assignment … does it have an end date? That is, when will I, we, head back to Earth?”


Sheppard knew Benson had come out here knowing it would a short term deal, and he should be going home. He also knew the Major had finally had a mission that tested his ability to command, and he wasn't as confident as he'd been when he arrived. “Well, that's not really spelled out. It seems they want an expert on site at all times. It is a very important site, and a very dangerous one. Making explosives can be a touchy thing.


But more information will be coming with the Daedalus. We were told that they may be delayed since the SGC is expediting the requisition of supplies and personnel.


I would assume that it's going to be a permanent placement. If you want a transfer, you might have to wait a while. Someone would have to be trained to take over and it won't be an easy spot to fill. But on the bright side, I'm sure you'll be discovering some interesting Ancienty stuff out there.” He glanced up at McKay who was starting to look a little jealous.


Benson looked at McKay, too. “So, I'll be fairly autonomous out there. And McKay will stay here in Atlantis, right?”


McKay tried to jump into the conversation, “I have much more exp....”


Dr. Weir glanced pointedly at Rodney. “Yes, Dr. McKay will stay on Atlantis unless you have a problem and request his help.” Turning back to Benson she continued, “I'm also requesting that you send updates on your discoveries to Atlantis. Any information you discover about the drones would be very useful here, as well as Earth.”


Benson nodded abruptly. “Well, if this is going to be my new command I think I'll need some time to plan the resources we'll need.”


Sheppard spoke up. “I thought that having two men on guard duty at the Gate would serve until we can set up an automated alarm.”


McKay added, “I have a list of raw materials needed from the inventory you and your men did at the outpost. I planned to get the shield and cloak repaired right away, but getting them online depends on the arrival of more naquadah generators. You certainly don't need more visitors like the last bunch. And you need a weather station. And a more complete survey, just to be safe. You can start on that right away. I actually asked for generators in our databurst to the SGC a few days ago, so hopefully they'll arrive on the Daedalus' next trip.”


Sheppard added, “Barris has been raiding some of our inventory here on Atlantis to make the accommodations better. I'm sure the Ancients bunked in the outpost. There were obvious living areas set aside for personnel. And we have some prefab shelters for various purposes and more structural supports ready to go. And I'll be assigning a Jumper for the outposts use. We don't want to draw attention to the planet. We want the area to look unpopulated so we want to keep foot traffic at the Gate to the minimum.”


Benson looked thoughtful as he glanced around the table. “You've been planning this all along?”


Sheppard and McKay shared a quick glance, and both said, “No.”

at the same time.


Dr. Weir smiled. “No. We had no idea it would turn out the way it did. They mentioned these things in their reports. Pegasus is a long way from Earth, so the supply line is a bit long. Contingencies are always foremost in our minds. We had to “make do” for a year out here with what we brought, could find, or could make. We're always planning.”


Benson nodded. “I see. I'll work with my assistants to come up with a list of necessities.”


Sheppard said. “Just remember it's a really long way to Earth.”


You're going to be the local expert, Major Benson. This is quite an honor,” Dr. Weir added.


McKay didn't even look up from his laptop, just continued his typing, as he added his own thoughts. “Yeah. After the shock wears off, maybe you'll actually be pleased. You'll have your own base. Your own command. It's going to look good on your record … at least to the people that have signed a stack of nondisclosure statements.”


McKay was annoyed about Benson's posting but he hoped the Major wouldn't turn out to be a real problem. At least he knew Benson wouldn't be on Atlantis much of the time, and even small victories had to be savored. Of course it was comforting, in an odd sort of way, that every time he thought about Benson he thought of a particular shade of neon purple. Even though he was typing, that thought brought a mysterious smile to his face.


...


It was a much calmer arrival for the Daedalus this time (no untimely countdown to self-destruct). They were glad to see the ship on their long range sensors because they hadn't been sure how long a delay the ship had needed to take on the required supplies. It seems it had only taken a couple of days. Sheppard waited in the Control Room for Chuck to announce it's safe arrival and landing on the pier.


Waiting for Caldwell was less tense than at other times. Sheppard was more than a little surprised that their relationship had mellowed. But when Caldwell walked into the Gate Room he had a strange look on his face. Sheppard couldn't help feeling a little trepidation. “Colonel Caldwell. Did you have a good trip?”


Caldwell sounded a little distracted. “Fine. By the book, and stuffed to the hull with your supplies.” Then Caldwell wrinkled his nose. “What in the world is that?”


...


finis

Author Note: The tava bean paragraph was inspired by my Dad. When he was being shipped to the Philippines just before the war ended (WWII if you're wondering) they had rice and fish every day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dad was feeling charitable though because he also said, “but we had really good cooks. They did a tremendous job.” But he still won't eat rice.